NEW YORK – Anthony Weiner knows there may be a lot of New Yorkers who would never consider voting for him again, but he says he's running for mayor because he wants to bring his ideas to the fore — and win.
"I don't kid myself. I know that this is going to be a difficult slog, and I'm going to have to have a lot of difficult conversations with people along the way," the former congressman, whose career imploded in a rash of raunchy tweets two years ago, said by phone Wednesday after officially launching his mayoral bid.
"I think I have something to contribute. And I think that it's up to New Yorkers to decide whether I get a second chance or not, and I hope the answer's yes," the Democrat added.
With a YouTube video posted late Tuesday, Weiner embarked on an audacious comeback quest, hoping to go from politician whose tweeted crotch shot was emblazoned on the nation's consciousness to leader of America's biggest city.
With a $4.8 million campaign war chest and possibly $1 million more in public matching money, a resume that includes seven terms in Congress, polls showing him ahead of all but one other Democrat and certainly no end of name recognition, Weiner is certain to add drama to the most competitive mayoral race in more than a decade. His participation makes a Democratic primary runoff more likely, and many political observers feel he could at least get to the second round.
His announcement was met with a mix of polite greetings and pushback from his now-rivals, at least one of whom used it as a jumping-off point for a fundraising appeal. Average New Yorkers were at no loss for opinions, either.
Weiner, who is styling his campaign as a bid to help the city's middle class thrive, ran for mayor in 2005 and nearly did in 2009. He said last month he was considering running, and he said Wednesday he'd been encouraged since by hearing from New Yorkers "who weren't completely forgetting the things I had done and the regrettable mistakes that I had made but wanted to hear more about my ideas."
Still, it's clear that he also will need to win over many.
"If you're so indiscreet in your personal life, what are you going to be in your political life?" city resident Gale Sorel said Wednesday.
But Elizabeth Fasolino, for one, is ready to give Weiner a chance to win her vote.
"He's made atonement," the Manhattanite said Wednesday. "I think he has the best interest of New York City voters in mind, the middle class especially."
A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday found Weiner getting 15 percent of the Democratic primary vote, behind City Council Speaker Christine Quinn at 25 percent. But 49 percent of city voters said Weiner shouldn't even run.
He said he's eager to talk to them, nonetheless.
"I hope at least some of the ideas penetrate, and it changes some of the conversations," he said.
His career cratered after a photo of a man's bulging, underwear-clad groin appeared on Weiner's Twitter account in 2011. He initially claimed his account had been hacked. But after more photos emerged, including one of him bare-chested in his congressional office, the married congressman eventually owned up to exchanging racy messages with several women, saying he'd never met any of them. He soon resigned.
He has said he shouldn't have lied but wanted to keep the truth from his then-pregnant wife, Huma Abedin, a longtime aide to former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. She has said has forgiven him.
Weiner's announcement follows another high-profile story of rapid political redemption: Former Republican Gov. Mark Sanford, whose extramarital affair derailed his political career in 2009, returned to Congress last week.
Weiner has done a series of interviews to reintroduce himself, and he has released a list of ideas. Some are sweeping — such as using Medicaid money to create a city-run, single-payer health system for the uninsured — while others are as specific as sending vans out to shopping centers so business owners can contest fines without having to go to city offices. Some ideas seem to draw on his Washington experience, such as making more use of a federal cigarette-smuggling law.
The document also offers a vision of the city — a place with "a can-do attitude, competitive spirit and aggressive nature" — that sounds not unlike Weiner himself. He was known in Washington as a vigorous defender of Democratic viewpoints, unafraid to get combative whether on cable TV or the House floor, and as a tireless and instinctive politician.
"Anybody who underestimates his ability as a candidate is a fool," retired Hunter College political science professor Kenneth Sherrill said.
Weiner can expect opponents to hammer at his prior prevaricating, and he said in a recent television interview that he couldn't guarantee that no more pictures or people would emerge.
Some rivals said they welcomed him to the race, including Democratic former City Comptroller William Thompson, whose campaign then sent out a fundraising email.
But Democratic former City Councilman Sal Albanese and Republican John Catsimatidis both rapped Weiner as a "career politician." Republican George McDonald complained that by seeking matching funds, Weiner "wants to rehab his tarnished reputation at the expense of taxpayers."
Quinn said Weiner's run "doesn't change my perspective or plan in this race at all."
Since leaving office, Weiner has put his government experience to work as a consultant for various companies. His campaign could help his long-term political prospects even if he loses, some experts say.
If Weiner ends up in a primary runoff, "then he will dramatically show that he's back and that he has a viable political career, even if he doesn't win," said George Arzt, a veteran Democratic political consultant who isn't working with any mayoral candidates this year.
Weiner's Democratic opponents also include Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Comptroller John Liu and the Rev. Erick Salgado, a pastor. Republican contenders also include former Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Joe Lhota. Former White House official Aldolfo Carrion Jr., a Democrat who recently dropped his party affiliation, is running on the Independence Party line and also interested in the Republican nomination.
Associated Press video journalist Joseph Frederick and radio correspondent Julie Walker contributed to this report.
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