FROM THE ARCHIVES: Anthony Weiner and the Politics of...Bike Lanes?

Tuesday, June 07, 2011 - 12:04 PM

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."

After running into some static from New York's biking community, Weiner later tweeted he was joking.

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.


Comments [10]

Tom Renda

Only a fool would drive a car in Manhattan.

Let's engage in some social engineering.

Arm the squeegee kids with pistols, and you will improve the NYC gene pool dramatically.

Jan. 26 2012 12:51 AM

If there is room left in that group of 25, count me in.

I would vote for a 12-year-old Student Council candidate if s/he promised to get rid of the bike lanes.

Jun. 18 2011 11:23 PM
Patrick Nielsen Hayden

Two more members of that supposed 25 here, living and voting in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

New York City traffic and transportation policy are top-level issues for both of us. Neither of us will vote for a candidate for citywide office who caters to the anti-bike minority, no matter how progressive they are on other issues.

Jun. 10 2011 07:44 AM
Steven Faust

Yes, a litmus test. I'm another of the 25.
Weiner's facebook fiasco is dumb, but in itself does not directly impact his legislative positions.

On the other hand, Weiner's anti bike statement cited in this article - despite his claim he was joking, coupled with a total avoidance of support for the Prospect Park West Bike Lane, makes me think he does not understand bicycles, traffic safety or urban planning.

If Weiner still believes that we can build our way out of traffic congestion with bigger streets that squeeze in more cars, plus find more parking spaces; and believes that there is a future with cheap gas and cheap energy, and continued auto based development, then this man has lost my confidence and support.

Jun. 09 2011 08:30 PM
Steve Leon

I am one of those 25.

Bicycling/Transportation has been a litmus test for my vote in the past and it will continue to be in the future.

Jun. 08 2011 02:32 PM

Don't forget Billy Thompson in the mayoral sweepstakes! I have no idea where he stands (or should I say rides?) on bike lanes.

While I won't vote solely on bike lanes, I agree that they are a synecdoche for a host of issues that are important to me (and I love that word -- had to look up its meaning and pronunciation!)

Jun. 08 2011 02:28 PM

Count me as one of those 25.

I'm for any candidate that understands that too many people are injured or killed by cars in this city and that we must do more to make the city livable and safe for the majority of people who get around on foot, by transit, and by bike. Car drivers are a minority.

Jun. 08 2011 01:41 PM
Amy Sara

I am one of those 25, too.

Jun. 08 2011 12:34 PM

"There are maybe 25 people in the entire city that would make a decision about their mayoral vote based on whether the candidate supported bike lanes"

I'm one of those 25. I think we just need 22 more now.

Jun. 08 2011 11:18 AM

DiBlasio is the keynote speaker for Transportation Alternatives summer fundraising dinner. So where does he really stand? Also, isn't Scott Stringer running for Mayor? He managed to broker a couple bike lane design conflicts, so he might be able to get support from both sides.

Jun. 08 2011 10:14 AM

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