Zaino: Anthony Weiner doesn't know how to take good advice

Democratic mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner is swarmed by

Democratic mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner is swarmed by the media after campaigning at the Nan Shan Senior Center on Monday in Queens. (July 29, 2013) (Credit: Charles Eckert)

Anthony Weiner’s campaign manager, Danny Kedem, resigned on Saturday. While the circumstances surrounding his departure remain unclear, it is safe to assume that, like the rest of Weiner’s staff, he was probably blindsided by the allegations last week.

Kedem’s departure is just another in a long line of reasons why Weiner is unfit to be mayor -- and they have nothing to do with his sexual pathologies or personal behavior.

One mark of a good leader is that he surrounds himself with experts, solicits their advice, listens to what they say, and makes the best decision he can under the circumstances. This is particularly important for executives -- whether big city mayors, governors or presidents – operating in complex and challenging times.


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Unfortunately for those NYC voters who were excited about Weiner’s candidacy, he has once again proven himself either unwilling or unable to do this, and that makes him unfit to serve.

The rap on Weiner has always been that he sees himself as the smartest person in the room and acts like something of a maverick. His confidence (arrogance?) may make him an attractive candidate, a good spokesperson for progressive causes or a great guest on talk shows, but it doesn’t make him a good leader. In fact, his inability to temper his overconfidence in his own judgment and his insistence that he need only seek counsel from himself has proven to be his Achilles' heel. It led to his downfall in the first iteration of this scandal, Weiner 1.0, and looks likely to happen again this time around.

In 2011, when the allegations of sexting first arose, then-Rep. Weiner made a series of serious mistakes handling the charges, and those missteps ultimately led to his resignation. As in so many of these cases, the ability to survive a scandal depends not as much on the nature of the allegations or what you did, as it does on what you do in the aftermath. In June 2011, Weiner decided to do what he has always done, take his own counsel. Instead of listening to the almost unanimous advice of experts in crisis management he decided to follow the "Anthony-knows-best" model of crisis management. Whereas he should have either come clean once or stayed quiet, instead he resorted to calling the texts a prank, went so far as to blame hackers, said he wouldn’t talk, then back-tracked and decided to talk at length, and finally called one CNN producer a jackass. Ultimately, his failure to seek or take advice from crisis management professionals proved to be disastrous. The story mushroomed out of control and Weiner was forced to resign.

Fast-forward two years and he did it again. There isn’t a campaign manager or strategist alive who would have advised Weiner to roll out his campaign for mayor in 2013 the way he did, because ultimately he opened himself up to charges of misleading the public, at best, and lying, at worst. Instead, strategists would have told him either not to run or to come clean on the timeline and his behavior since leaving Congress.

Any first-year lawyer learns this lesson – don’t mislead the jury, come clean early and first, so the opposing side doesn’t have the chance to paint you as a liar. Jurors may not like what you have to say, but you swallow the medicine, 'fess up, ask for forgiveness and seek credit for being honest and upfront. And let’s face it, Americans are generally a very forgiving bunch.

Same thing is true when the jury is the public or voters: Be upfront, take control of the story, sit down and come clean once, answer all questions, ask for forgiveness and get credit for being honest. Imagine if Weiner did that this spring? It wouldn’t have been easy, but he could have sought some credit for honesty and made the case that this was between him and his wife, not an issue for public consumption.

It’s one thing for Weiner to ignore the advice of experts and rely solely on his own judgment when it impacts him and his family. Imagine, however, if he acted this way as mayor? Imagine if Mayor Weiner decided not to seek or listen to advice when it came to issues of policing, public safety, education, the environment, housing, jobs or any of the other numerous issues impacting the city?

When we face complicated issues, no one – including Anthony Weiner – knows enough to lead. Complex democracies require leaders who are willing to surround themselves with talented people, whether they be security experts, scientists, doctors, educators, economists, and the like; leaders who not only seek out, but listen to, the advice of experts before they make a decision. Throughout most of his career, Weiner has shown that he is either unwilling or unable to do this.

Jeanne Zaino is professor of political science at Iona College and of political campaign management at New York University. 

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