Anthony Weiner's tricky campaign task

Anthony Weiner speaks to the media after courting

Anthony Weiner speaks to the media after courting voters outside a Harlem subway station a day after announcing he will enter the New York mayoral race on in Manhattan. (May 23, 2013) (Credit: Getty Images)

The novelty of Anthony Weiner's return to the public arena fades with every public appearance he makes. More and more, he faces the tricky task of trying to sell his pre-scandal congressional career as qualification to manage New York City's $69-billion-a-year government.

As he does, candidates in the crowded Democratic primary who trail most in polls have begun taking shots at Weiner -- and always on subjects other than the "sexting" that abruptly forced his resignation from the House two years ago.

During Wednesday's televised mayoral primary debate, geared toward issues of Latino interest, the Democratic candidates expressed concern on the plight of immigrants living in the country illegally. One question focused on whether to allow them to obtain New York State driver's licenses.

Weiner offered a rhetorical mix similar to one he used in 2007 when Gov. Eliot Spitzer pushed the idea and then dropped it amid a storm of opposition and ridicule. Weiner said then that those immigrants should be brought "out of the shadows" but there were "legitimate problems" with the Spitzer plan. This week, Weiner said he didn't want a state or city initiative to "jam up" efforts to solve the problem nationally.

"Hopefully, if the House of Representatives finally gets out of the way and follows the lead of the Senate and the president, there is going to be a national ID card," Weiner said.

But Public Advocate Bill de Blasio argued that "if we want Washington to move, cities and states have to create an inexorable momentum" for action."

And long-shot candidate Erick Salgado, the only Latino in the seven-way debate, reminded Weiner "You aren't in Congress any more" in arguing his point that it is up to a mayor to help normalize the lives of immigrants living in the country without legal permission.

Underdog candidate Sal Albanese hurled a more direct shot at Weiner's record in Congress. "He voted to support the war in Iraq, which cost two trillion dollars, which should have been pumped into education and housing," Albanese said. Weiner wasn't asked for a response, nor did he interject one.

For now, at least, the candidates perceived as having stronger odds, such as Christine Quinn and Bill Thompson, don't overtly recognize Weiner as a threat in a multi-way primary -- and keep their public critiques of him more limited.

"If he makes the runoff, you'd see the gloves come off," said one rival's strategist -- citing the contest that comes between first- and second-place finishers if no candidate clears 40 percent. That, the adviser said, would include not only his anatomical tweets, his lying to cover them up, and his resignation, but a 12-year tenure in Washington in which he got only one sponsored bill enacted.