After weeks of carefully managed political repair work that has lifted Anthony Weiner from sexting scandal punch line to front-runner in the New York City mayoral campaign, he suddenly faces a threat from someone who's not even in the same race: Eliot Spitzer.
The former New York governor's surprise entry into the city comptroller's race now means there are two sex scandal-comeback stories competing for the media's attention, and the constant mention of both in the same breath has once again put Weiner back under the lens of infamy he has worked so hard to escape.
"It's horrible timing, just as Weiner was rising in the polls," said Democratic strategist Dan Gerstein, who is not affiliated with any candidate in the 2013 race. "Now, we've had a weeklong conversation about sex. Character may become a central issue again." Asked Baruch College political science professor Douglas Muzzio: "One sex scandal is one thing, but do we have enough forgiveness for two redemptions?"
Weiner, a fiery Democrat who used to represent Brooklyn and Queens, resigned his congressional seat in 2011 after an embarrassing scandal that included racy online exchanges with women and lewd Twitter photos of his underwear-clad crotch. He entered a self-imposed exile from public life only to return with his brash mayoral bid two months ago.
In the first days of his campaign, he patiently answered voters' questions about his wrongdoings and gave a series of lengthy interviews in which he apologized and asked for a second chance. His opponents barely mentioned the scandal, their campaigns believing Weiner's seemingly long-shot bid would implode on its own.
But many New Yorkers seemed to respond with an everyone-makes-mistakes shrug. Drawn to Weiner's celebrity status and compelling campaign style, would-be voters largely cheered him at his campaign events and sent him to the top tier of candidates in mayoral polls. The buzz around his surging bid allowed Weiner to largely move past the scandal and instead run an issues-based campaign, all while drawing media attention that dwarfed what was received by his rivals.
Spitzer, who resigned in 2008 after admitting he paid for sex with prostitutes, endangers that, experts believe. Suddenly, two men who did not have much of a relationship while each was in office could effectively be joined at the hip.
"Anytime you talk about Spitzer, you're reminded of his scandal. . . . He becomes a constant reminder of Weiner's transgressions, too," said Tom Doherty of Mercury Public Affairs, a political consulting firm that does not have a client in either the mayoral or comptroller race.
"The two of them, in two different races, may have the effect of pulling each other down" by giving Republicans an opening to portray Democrats as morally challenged, added retired Hunter College political science professor Kenneth Sherrill.