Award–winning journalist Andrea Bernstein is Senior Editor for Politics & Policy for WNYC News. She has previously served as Metro Editor, Political Director, Director of Transportation Nation, and Senior Reporter.
FROM THE ARCHIVES -- I wrote this two years ago, as Anthony Weiner's political career was unraveling (but before he'd resigned.) But as he's making moves to get into the race again, seemed like a good time to surface it.
Well, folks, the prospects of New York Congressman Anthony Weiner being a serious contender for Mayor of New York City have grown rather dim in the last ten days, but I thought I'd take this moment of, um, attention to talk about the politics of bike lanes and the 2013 Mayor's race. Because, after all, that's what you really want to be talking about, right? To get your mind off all those photos splashed incessantly on your TV and computer screens? (I'll tell you what I think about all that at the end of the post, but I'm going to make you read about bike lanes first).
Weiner was considered a leading contender for the Democratic nomination for mayor in 2013, having been through a campaign in 2005 where he didn't win -- but he ended the race with momentum, and then become a savvy media commentator on the health care debate and other national issues. Also assumed to be running in 2013: NYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, New York City Comptroller John Liu, and perhaps, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. Other maybes: Former Comptroller Bill Thompson, and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. And, just possibly, regional HUD Director and former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion.
But anyway, back to Weiner.
Earlier this year, Weiner provided the lead anecdote for a New York Times story that expressed doubt about Mayor Michael Bloomberg's confidence in his transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan. (Let me say my own sources tell me the Mayor is still backing her, and there's been no public evidence otherwise.) But anyway, the Times story on Sadik-Khan started with Weiner boasting about what he said to the Mayor at a Gracie Mansion dinner for New York's Congressional Delegation:
“When I become mayor, you know what I’m going to spend my first year doing? I’m going to have a bunch of ribbon-cuttings tearing out your (expletive) bike lanes."
But it didn't sound like a joke (any more than it rang true that he couldn't recognize a picture of his own crotch) and he had already been quoted in some very prominent media real estate as having an anti bike-lane position.
The problem for Weiner on bike lanes is that polls consistently show New Yorkers like bike lanes more than they like almost anything Mayor Bloomberg has done (other than Ray Kelly). Maybe not as much as they like free ice cream on a summer afternoon, but they like them.
A vocal, substantial, and influential minority does not like bike lanes, and that's who Weiner was speaking to when he promised to rip them out. The problem is: if you examine the cross tabs on the polls, you'll see that the people who like bike lanes the least -- people from parts of the city with little public transit, like southern Brooklyn and eastern Queens, union households, older women -- are the people that already love Anthony Weiner. He is their son.
To win a contested Democratic primary in New York you need to get some of the people that don't already love you, and for Weiner that means some people in Park Slope, the Upper West Side, Williamsburg, or Ditmas Park.
The alpha-male fueled rant against bike lanes would seem to make that rather difficult. Because bikes are a synecdoche for a whole bunch of things -- environmentalism, hipness, urbanity. And in a tightly-contested Democratic primary in New York City, these things matter.
By the way, I made a number of requests for an interview with Anthony Weiner about his true feelings for bike lanes (before the current brouhaha.) We've spoken many times over the last decade on a variety of issues, but my requests for an interview on this went unanswered.
Only one other candidate for Mayor (that we know of) has dipped a toe in the anti-bike lane waters: Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. De Blasio sent out a press release earlier this spring that said:
“I commend the Department of Transportation for responding to community concerns by halting its plans to install a bike lane in Bay Ridge. This was an important step forward that shows a willingness to respect the input of residents and community leaders. I challenge the Department to make listening to New Yorkers standard procedure and to be willing to incorporate community feedback into its projects.”
De Blasio's office played this as a pro-community input platform, rather than an anti-bike lane one, but it was clearly set aloft by the anti-bike lane wind that blew through the city while we were waiting for real summer to come.
We haven't heard from Quinn or Liu on this. During his 2009 campaign, Thompson expressed doubts about the Grand Street bike lane, and Stringer has been somewhat on the pro-side, issuing a report last summer showing how frequently bike lanes are blocked. Carrion hasn't spoken specifically about NYC bike lanes, though as director of the White House Office of Urban Affairs in 2009 he did promote biking quite a bit.
Ray Kelly, if he runs, is expected to run as a Republican, a whole different political equation, and one for another post.
But if Weiner didn't have more worrisome utterances to shake, his bike lane comments could have been trouble for him in 2013.
Oh, by the way -- can he still run? Maybe. Politics loves a redemption song, and Weiner started to sing one loudly (and endlessly) yesterday. If the news doesn't get worse -- underage girls, physical contact -- it's even possible he could lay low for a while, let the other Dems fight it out, and come back as the rejuvenated Anthony Weiner.
And then we can talk about bike lane policy.