Anthony Weiner and the tossed-salad model of leadership

anthony-weiner-and-tossed-salad-model-leadership
Anthony Weiner. ()
Tweet Share on Facebook Share on Tumblr Print

Don't hate me because I'm impatient is not a new way for candidates to respond to criticism.

Here was Eliot Spitzer in 1994, when he was first running for attorney general:

"If you want to instigate change you have to start in a big way," he said. "I understand what will be said about me. I understand that I will be attacked by people like Koppell who are constrained by the system, who define what the system is, who will say you have to wait your turn."

Spitzer lost that year, won four years later, then, eight years after that, became governor. In the end, his "steamroller" approach worked out pretty poorly, even before he was finally sunk by a prostitution scandal.

Andrew Cuomo, back in 2002 when he was unknowingly heading for disaster in his first run for governor, answered a question about his reputation for being a jerk by saying that maybe people held grudges against his father, but that mostly it was a result of him posing a threat to people who liked things the way they were.

MORE ON CAPITAL

ADVERTISEMENT

“If you are vested in the system, you are going to find me disruptive,” he said. “Why? Because I am! Because I want to change the status quo. And if you are part of the status quo, you are going to say, ‘This is a disruptive force.’ Yes.”

Of course it wasn't that simple. He was disruptive, for sure, but also had a reputation for pettiness and gratuitous application of force that seemed to his fellow New York Democrats to spring from something other than a fervent desire for reform. Plus Cuomo had chosen that year to run for governor against an undisruptive but well-liked Democratic mainstay, then-state comptroller Carl McCall, who also stood to become his party's first-ever black nominee for governor.

Democratic voters ended up siding overwhelmingly that year with McCall, and Cuomo exited the race in humiliation. Cuomo came back four years later and won a race for attorney general, then later became governor, with a mandate to stick it to the establishment. 

So now here's Anthony Weiner, talking about that big Times story detailing his wont to seek quick hits rather than lasting accomplishments.

From Ruby Cramer's write-up of a candidate forum last night:

“I tried to deny Mike Bloomberg a second term when I ran in 2005, and I united our party behind Fernando Ferrer because I knew how important it was even then.”

“If you’re not impatient when you’re the mayor, there’s something wrong with you — you don’t have a heart,” Weiner added, standing beside three fellow Democratic candidates: Comptroller John Liu, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, and Reverend Erick Salgado. “So if you want to know what kind of guy I am, I am what I am.”

If Weiner is arguing that there are more important things to worry about than whether, say, he caused unprecedented numbers of staffers to flee his employ, or whether his reported phone-smashing, salad-throwing tantrums indicate something meaningful about his character, fine. (Weiner denies the salad part.) He is what he is, as he says, and voters can judge him on the entirety of his record.

But it's worth remembering the point of the Times story (which is also a point people have been making here for about as long as this site has been around) is that Weiner, for all his impatience, never actually got much done all that time he was in Washington.

(Also, for the record, he "united our party behind Fernando Ferrer" by not seeking a place in a runoff that he didn't end up getting enough votes to earn, winning goodwill from the party and avoiding almost-certain annihilation versus Bloomberg in the general.)

Yes, being an executive isn't the same as being a legislator. And tallying bills passed is a limited way of measuring effectiveness. But it's surely worth taking into account the results that Weiner got with his combination of impatience and abrasiveness, in trying to figure out what sort of mayor he'd be.

Weiner's right. People shouldn't vote against him for yelling or throwing things, and anyway if they're willing to forgive him his more famous personal failings, a little lunch on the wall is bound to be beside the point. New Yorkers want a fighter in City Hall, we're always told, and Weiner was, and remains, a guy who likes a good argument.

But asking voters to take his behavior in Washington as a sign of leadership and "heart" is a bit much, even for him.