Weiner's Shorts (Policy Shorts, That Is)

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There were multiple contenders for the role of Quixote in New York City’s 2005 mayoral campaign. On the Democratic side there was Anthony Weiner, a young congressman with a punchline for a last name running against better known opponents. The Republicans had Tom Ognibene, a former City Councilman who had the temerity to challenge Mayor Bloomberg for his party’s nomination.

Bloomberg’s operatives ultimately knocked Ognibene off the ballot, but until that happened he often shared the stage with the Democratic candidates at debates, and he said in a 2005 interview that he had given Weiner a private warning: namely, that his combination stump speech/stand-up routine was going to tarnish his image. “People aren’t going to take you seriously,” Ognibene told me he told the Brooklyn-Queens rep.

Now that Weiner’s jokey response to the tweeting scandal as given way to an admission that he sent a photo of his crotch to a young woman other than his wife, Ognibene’s words seem prophetic.

Ironically, back in 2005, they seemed anything but, because despite his borscht-belt schtick, people had begun to take Weiner very seriously in 2005. In part that’s because Weiner identified himself as a candidate with some serious ideas—dozens of them, in fact, published in two volumes titled “Real Solutions for New York.” These were sets of bite-sized ideas for improving city services, safety and finances. Some were insightful and others were obvious, but taken together they made Weiner the ideas man of the race.

Back then, Weiner did not cast himself as the liberal firebrand he has since become. If anything, he ran slightly to the right of his primary opponents, supporting the then-novel subway bag searches and giving a whole speech devoted to faith-based solutions. Coupled with Weiner’s fierce support for Israel (he introduced a bill to force the closure of the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s Washington office), these positions hinted at an Ed Koch-style strategy of targeting outer-borough white ethnic voters, which made sense given that Weiner’s opponents were a Latino man, a black woman and a white Manhattan liberal.

The strategy almost worked: Weiner got important endorsements and positive press and when Democrats voted he nearly forced a runoff with the primary winner, Fernando Ferrer. Citing party unity, the congressman swore off any runoff shortly before revised results showed Weiner coming in just under the threshold to require one.

Weiner’s 2005 campaign website is still up and running. One can’t read the full, two-volume “Solutions” opuses anymore but most of Weiner’s 12 policy speeches are there, on crime, on taxes, on economic development and more.

It’s unclear whether Weiner will still try to run for mayor in 2013—to date, he’s got roughly $2 million more in his campaign war chest than an other likely Democratic contender—and if he does, whether he’ll still aim to out-wonk his opponents. Should he run, the 2005 policy ideas would obviously need updating. But for those seeking to understand where Weiner came from, the speeches are revealing.

Not as revealing as other material on the web, perhaps, but interesting nonetheless.