Former congressman Anthony Weiner began his comeback campaign in Harlem on Thursday at a chaotic event where police were called and the candidate faced heckling.
But overall Weiner expressed satisfaction with his first contact with voters, finding them to be in a largely forgiving mood.
Asked about poor poll figures that show him with only 15% support, he told reporters it was only the first day of his campaign. “I have been encouraged by the people who say they are prepared to give me a second chance,” Weiner said.
A Quinnipiac University poll puts Weiner in second place in a crowded Democratic primary field in the New York mayoral race to replace Michael Bloomberg.
Pollsters do not know whether the 15% is his ceiling or a base from which he can build, but he is helped by a largely uninspiring set of Democratic rivals. Weiner is a good street politician, able to generate excitement, as he did in Harlem.
Having announced his entry into the race on Wednesday, Weiner opted to make his first campaign stop at 7.45am in the centre of Harlem, outside one of the subway entrances at the corner of 126th and Lenox Avenue.
Weiner, who travelled by subway from his home on Park Avenue, was greeted by more than 100 reporters, photographers and camera crews when he surfaced onto the street.
The media is less interested in his plan for helping the poorer neighbourhoods of New York and almost entirely focused on whether a politician can recover from the humiliation of having to resign after lying about lewd pictures of himself he sent out on Twitter.
“I would vote for him, in spite of his problems,” said Herb Washington, 60, a Democrat and a salesman from Harlem who was among voters who chatted to Weiner. “This is a forgiving town. Everyone makes mistakes.”
It was a view echoed by others that Weiner greeted. Julian Hammond, 28, who is a registered Republican but usually votes Democrat, had the distinction of being the first voter of this campaign with whom Weiner shook hands.
Hammond, who works for Starbucks and is from Harlem, said: “I do not care what he did in the past. He is not a criminal.”
The choice of a subway entrance for a campaign event at the height of rush hour was unfortunate, a mistake that might have been avoided by more experienced campaign staff that Weiner has so far failed to attract.
The combination of Weiner, the media and the voters he was chatting to ended up blocking the entrance, leaving angry and frustrated commuters stuck at the back. Weiner’s words were drowned out by shouts of “Can you step back?”, “I just want to get on the train” and “You’re making me late for work.” Two police officers were called to force a passage for commuters.
Throughout the event, and at a brief press conference in the street afterwards, hecklers berated him for what they said was his exploitation of Harlem, using it, as so many other politicians have done down the years, as a campaign backdrop. They also complained about the gentrification of Harlem, with poorer residents being forced out.
One of the hecklers, asked whether he would vote for Weiner, said: “Hell no. This is all about publicity. He does not care about Harlem.”
Weiner showed he retains his instincts as a natural street politician when a reporter showed him a paper with headline expressing disapproval of his decision to join the race: ‘He’s Got Some Balls’.
The unexpected headline would throw most politicians. And Weiner too was initially wrongfooted by it. He hesitated before saying: “Actually, they did not put that on their front page, did they?”
He recovered fast. “If citizens want to talk to me about my failings, that is their right,” he said, before going on to talk about homelessness, provisions for helping the working-class with affordable housing and other issues he is planning to campaign on.
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