Weiner defends an old race-baiting flier: ‘It was just quoting from The New York Times’

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Anthony Weiner. ()
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Apparently not content to leave it at his handwritten apology, Anthony Weiner offered a new justification for an old, racially insensitive flier he circulated while running for an open City Council seat shortly after the Crown Heights riot.

After a mayoral forum yesterday on Staten Island, Weiner referred to the flier, which attacked his rival Adele Cohen for being "The candidate of the DAVID DINKINS/JESSE JACKSON COALITION," by saying that it raised "things that were true" and simply quoted The New York Times.

That's highly misleading. The flier quotes the Times' anodyne description of the coalition of liberal groups that supported Jackson and Dinkins, which had given its backing to Cohen in the Council primary. The all-caps treatment of Dinkins and Jackson, meant as a dog whistle to nervous white and Jewish voters, was entirely the Weiner campaign's.

Weiner wrote a handwritten note of apology to Cohen for the flier, which he sent once the vote was in, and the primary effectively decided in his favor.

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Weiner's quoting-the-Times defense came up at the forum in response to an attack from Green Party mayoral candidate Tony Gronowicz, who accused Weiner (mistakenly, it turns out) for having interrupted him during his opening remarks.

"You took a jab at me, so, I'm going to point out something that has nothing to do with your anatomy," Gronowicz said. "Back in 1991, he was a long-shot candidate in a Jewish district in Brooklyn and he ran a race-baiting campaign that the Times attacked, because he won. He ran against Adele Cohen, an honorable woman, and said she was a functionary of Jackson and Dinkins."

"I would not have said anything but he dared to interrupt me," Gronowicz told the crowd. (It was actually John Liu, the city comptroller, who interrupted Gronowicz.)

The flier incident has been discussed in the media, particularly by MSNBC's Steve Kornacki, who originally mentioned it in a long history of Weiner he wrote for this site. MSNBC producer and historian Jack Bohrer (who is also a contributor to Capital) recently unearthed the original flier, as well as Weiner's note of apology to Cohen.

But Gronowicz's salvo against Weiner marked the first time a candidate confronted the former congressman about the 1991 flier since he got into this year's mayor's race*.

It has come up before.

The flier resurfaced when Weiner was preparing to run for mayor in 2009. Weeks ago, it was mentioned in a survey call to a voter which tested negative messages against various Democratic mayoral candidates, suggesting one of his opponents may use it later.

Asked by reporters about the flier after the forum, and whether he felt he needed to address it further, Weiner said he apologized to Cohen and that "it was a flier that pointed out some things that were true."

When Jennifer Fermino from the Daily News asked what in the flier was true, Weiner said, "It was just quoting from The New York Times. The flier's available. You can take a look at it."

When pressed for more about this, he said, "She had been supportive of this coalition. I just quoted the flier from The New York Times. I think it was on his website," he said, pointing to me.

*UPDATE: Matt Taylor, a freelancer who has written about politics for Capital, attended a New Kings Democrats meeting last week at which Weiner was confronted about the flier by one of the club's members.

According to Taylor, this was Weiner's response:

"One of the candidates in the race accepted an endorsement that was unpopular, and I wrote a flier about it. This other candidate had accepted the endorsement of two unpopular people, a presidential candidate and the mayor. In retrospect, given the time that it was, Crown Heights was going on, I should not have done it. And ever since then I think I’ve had a remarkable record.”