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Weiner works to focus mayoral bid on issues

Mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner is swarmed by the

Mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner is swarmed by the media as he greets commuters at the 125th Street 2/3 subway station in Manhattan. (May 23, 2013) Credit: Charles Eckert

Anthony Weiner tried Thursday to pivot his two-day-old campaign onto his pitch to become New York's next mayor, but was confronted by continuing questions about his sexting scandal and a remark by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo that if voters elect Weiner, "shame on us."

Not long after Weiner, 48, finished a chaotic morning greeting subway commuters in Harlem and on a train headed downtown, news broke of the governor's comment Wednesday to the editorial board of the Syracuse Post-Standard.

A key Cuomo aide who asked not to be named sought to recast the stinging quote as a misunderstood joke.

"He made a quip with sarcasm," the aide said.

Marie Morelli, an editorial board member, said the comment was part of a "very serious conversation about ethics and morals" in government and Albany corruption. "If he wants to say now that it's a joke, he hasn't called us to say, 'I was only joking,' " she said.

Joke or not, it reinforced a big question about Weiner's comeback try: Can he move the conversation past the sexting-and-lying episode that forced him to resign his House seat in disgrace in 2011?

He acknowledged as much during a midmorning interview with WNYC radio's Brian Lehrer about the campaign.

"Frankly, I know that part of this process is going to be doing a lot of apologizing," Weiner said.

But he declined, as he has done before, to reveal more about how many other as-yet-unrevealed lewd pictures, messages and Twitter correspondents could still surface, though he vowed his misbehavior won't happen again.

"It is what it is," Weiner said. "I'm certainly not going to do that."

Weiner didn't wait for the question at a local Democratic club's candidates forum in the Bronx Thursday night, where he took his turn at a podium among his primary rivals for the first time.

"I'm sorry," he digressed near the end of his fighter-for-the-middle-class message to 200 mostly elderly people. "You put a great deal of hope and confidence in me, and I did some very embarrassing things." He took three questions -- all on issues -- and left in a waiting SUV, avoiding reporters.

Speaking before Weiner, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio ignored him. So did former Comptroller Bill Thompson, except for a jest: "I thank all the members of the press for coming out to cover me."

The Harlem foray was Weiner's first public campaign event. A crush of reporters and photographers crowded around him.

Weiner charmed commuters with avuncular entreaties ("Give me a hug, dear," he told a middle-aged fan), good-natured barbs ("Everyone has their flaws," Jets fan Weiner teased a man in a Giants jersey) and policy prescriptions (fewer marijuana arrests would make the NYPD's stop-and-frisk tactic less controversial, he said).

Few commuters raised the Twitter issue. "I forgive you!" said Harlem resident Charles Johnson, 62, a retired security guard. But aboard a downtown 2 train, a woman scolded him to stay off the social media that kneecapped his political career.

Weiner smirked. "We were doing so well. I almost got off this train with everything going fine."

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