New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner admitted Tuesday that his inappropriate online sexual chats with women did not end with his resignation from Congress in 2011, after new copies of explicit conversations were released to the public by an anonymous tipster. “I have said that other texts and photos are likely to come out, and today they have,” Weiner said at an afternoon press conference. “There is no question that what I did was wrong. This behavior is behind me. I have apologized to my wife Huma.”
Weiner called the press conference after a gossip site, The Dirty, posted screenshots of salacious conversations between Weiner, writing under the pseudonyms Carlos Danger and Dangr33, and an anonymous woman on Facebook and another social-networking site, Formspring. The posted conversations included explicit descriptions of sexual acts by Weiner, yet another photograph of Weiner’s penis, as well as flirtations and words of praise from the woman. “Specifically your health care rants were a huge turn on,” the woman wrote in one of the messages.
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Weiner admitted the authenticity of the posts at the press conference, while also saying not everything that had been reported about his interactions was true. He declined to specify the inaccuracies. “I’m not going to get into a back-and-forth with people who are releasing whatever they want,” he said. He also dismissed the relevance of the details, saying they were no different than the behavior that had already come out. “To some degree, with 49 days left until primary day, perhaps I’m surprised that more things did not come out sooner,” he said. “In many ways things are not that much different than they were yesterday.”
Early in the campaign, Weiner had warned that more salacious behavior could emerge. “People may decide they want to come forward and say, Here’s another e-mail that I got or another photo,” he told local radio station WNYC-FM in May.
But the real question Weiner needed to address was timing. The Dirty reported that the anonymous leaker of the conversations said her relationship with Weiner ended as recently as November 2012, more than a year after Weiner resigned from Congress because of similar indiscretions. In July of 2012, Weiner and his wife Huma Abedin gave an interview to People magazine, claiming that their problems were behind them. “I’m very happy in my present life,” Weiner said in that interview. “Anthony has spent every day since [the scandal] trying to be the best dad and husband he can be,” added Abedin. The anonymous tipster told The Dirty she first started talking to Weiner on July 12, 2012. The interview in People ran a week later.
During the press conference, Weiner acknowledged that the most recent online relationship was ongoing last summer, putting it around the time of the People interview. But Weiner said the timing of the behavior was irrelevant. “The resignation was not a point in time that was nearly as important to my wife and me as the challenges in our marriage,” he said. “Some of these things happened before my resignation, some of them happened after, but the fact is that is time when my wife and I were working through things in our marriage. I’m glad these things are behind us.”
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It is possible that the timing will not matter much to average voters. “Weiner is correct in saying there is nothing new here,” says Kenneth Sherrill, professor emeritus of political science at Hunter College in New York City. “For those who haven’t made up their minds, I don’t think they are as concerned with the question of when he stopped doing it. The issue is whether they are going to be concerned with his doing it at all. In a crazy way, this may end up generating sympathy for him among a certain group of voters who get the impression the press beating up on him.”
Nearly as notable as Weiner’s admission Tuesday was the emergence of Abedin as a vocal defender of her husband in spite of his past behavior. She stood beside Weiner with a smile on her face as he made his opening statements, and in a surprising turn, took the podium to make her own moving speech that will be the defining moment of the campaign. “I made the decision that it was worth staying in this marriage, that was a decision I made for me, for our son, and for our family,” she said, reading from a prepared speech. “Anthony has made some terrible mistakes, both before he resigned from Congress and after, but I do truly believe that is between us.” She said she loved him and had forgiven him.
Some political observers suggested that Abedin’s extraordinary performance could end up salvaging the hopes of Weiner’s mayoral campaign. If Weiner continues to thrive, “the fact that his wife spoke today will have saved the campaign,” says Basil Smikle, a New York political consultant and former top campaign aide to Hillary Clinton. (Abedin is a longtime aide to Clinton.) “It may be that she has in a way inoculated him,” says Sherrill, who believes that Abedin’s performance may end up generating “an awful lot of sympathy for the two of them” that may even help Weiner “emerge as a stronger candidate as a result.”
Until Tuesday, things had been going relatively smoothly for Weiner. In early polls, he has appeared as one of the two front-runners in the seven-candidate race, along with city-council speaker Christine Quinn. In the most recent poll from Siena College and the New York Times, 59% of voters said they were willing to give Weiner another chance, which may or may not change. “Time is going to tell obviously,” says Sherrill, “but I think he might get away with it.”