Anthony Weiner is running for mayor, betting he can revive a political career wrecked by a sexting scandal even as he acknowledged Wednesday that "there are going to be some New Yorkers who would never want to vote for me again."
A poll released hours after Weiner's late-night video declaration of his candidacy showed 49 percent of New Yorkers didn't want him to run. Yet Weiner starts his comeback bid in second place among the Democratic field, trailing City Council Speaker Christine Quinn with 15 percent to her 25 percent, according to the Quinnipiac University poll.
"If people have to decide for themselves if they want to have a conversation about my past failings and my personal life, I respect that," Weiner said in an interview with Newsday. "It's their right to have that conversation."
Weiner's entry shook up a race that has no dominant front-runner within clear reach of the 40 percent needed to avoid a runoff after the Democratic primary in September, experts said Wednesday.
"I think the race is fluid and I don't think there is a commanding lead, even though Quinn has led in the polls throughout," said political guru Doug Muzzio. "Clearly, the mathematics of the race has changed. It appears it makes a runoff highly probable."
Other candidates' reactions reflected the new landscape.
At a morning candidates' forum, Quinn all but refused to say his name, talking instead about her record. "Why should I talk about anyone but myself? I'm the one running for mayor here," Quinn said.
Former Comptroller Bill Thompson and current Comptroller John Liu said they welcomed Weiner into the race, but pivoted to say the race is about issues.
Weiner could hurt the candidacies of Quinn and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio by "splitting up the outer-borough white ethnic vote," said strategist Joseph Mercurio. Thompson would benefit from the split, picking up strong support from black and Hispanic voters that could propel him into a runoff.
Weiner has $4.3 million in his campaign war chest, more than any other candidate but Quinn, who has $5.8 million. But he has no ground operation, Muzzio said. "He's got to depend on the air war [more] than on the ground war."
Weiner's candidacy is a shot at political redemption for the former congressman, who quit his seat in 2011 after he admitted sending lewd Twitter messages and photos to women he was acquainted with through social media, then repeatedly lying to the press and the public about his conduct.
In the campaign video, Weiner, 48, acknowledges "big mistakes." But the emphasis is on family and community, opening with a feel-good kitchen table scene with his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton aide Huma Abedin, and their toddler son, Jordan, followed by populist pitches on jobs, housing, policing and schools.
He uses the words "middle class" four times, branding himself a product of it and a fighter for it. He tells voters, "I hope I get a second chance to work for you." It concludes with Abedin, sitting alongside him, saying, "We love this city, and no one will work harder to make it better than Anthony."
Weiner said both he and Abedin will keep their day jobs. Abedin now works for Clinton's transition office. Weiner has a consulting business, which he said he will have to scale back because of the campaign's time demands.
In the interview, asked if New Yorkers could trust him to not have another lapse akin to the scandal that made him a national punchline, Weiner said he has worked hard to fix his "personal failings."
"You know I resigned my seat in Congress. You know, I've worked hard the last couple years to get my life in order, to do the best I can to make it up to my wife and to be a good father, but I've never stopped thinking about the issues of the middle class and those struggling to make it."
Will voters believe him?
"I fully acknowledge that there are going to be some New Yorkers who would never want to vote for me again and I appreciate that, I understand that, but I hope that even for them, I can have a conversation about the issues that are important to the city," Weiner said.
Weiner stayed out of public sight Wednesday while giving a handful of interviews to news media, but Thursday planned a morning stop outside a Harlem subway station.
In Brooklyn, outside the Sheepshead Bay senior center where Weiner announced his resignation from Congress in 2011, there was division over his decision.
"He is supposed to be a mature man and what he did was disgraceful," said Abe Fishman, 30.
"I can forgive him," said Al Stavay, 50, who owns a paint store. "These things happen."
"If anything new comes out," Tusk said, "he's completely dead."
With Yancey Roy, Ikimulisa Livingston, Daniel Rivoli and Maria Alvarez