Campaign cash fuels speculation of Weiner comeback

He has what most politicians can only dream of: widespread name recognition, a hefty campaign account, and a buzzing media circus that follows his every move.

But for former Rep. Anthony Weiner, the question lingers — will it be enough for political redemption?

It's been more than a year since Weiner resigned in disgrace after tweeting lewd pictures of himself. Yet his marriage survived the scandal that made him a national joke; his wife, Huma Abedin, was pregnant at the time and gave birth to their first child in December.

His political prospects are less certain, though new questions have recently surfaced about whether he's considering a comeback by running for citywide office in 2013.

Weiner — who had long been vocal about his mayoral aspirations and ran for the Democratic nomination in 2005 — has filed disclosure reports with the New York City Campaign Finance Board showing he has approximately $4.5 million in the bank for a potential City Hall bid.

Public matching funds, which are awarded for individual contributions from city residents up to $175, would give Weiner nearly $1.5 million in extra cash. Those funds will expire, however, unless they're used in the upcoming election cycle — adding a sense of urgency to any plans the Queens Democrat might have for a return to politics.

Weiner, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment on whether he's mulling a political campaign. He also did not respond to messages left on his cellphone.

In a People magazine interview set to come out Friday, Weiner said he isn't preparing for a comeback — at least for now.

"I can't say absolutely that I will never run for public office again, but I'm very happy in my present life. I'm not doing anything to plan a campaign," he said.

These days, Weiner has kept a low profile. He's assumed the role of stay-at-home dad, taking care of his six-month-old son while Abedin circles the globe on business with her boss, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The resilience of Weiner's marriage could help persuade voters to trust him, said Jennifer Lawless, associate professor of government at American University.

Voters could say, "If the people who know him best are willing to trust him then that says something, and maybe we should trust him, too," she said.

In that same People interview, Abedin said she wanted people to know they were a "normal family."

"My husband did a really stupid thing," she said. "It was an extremely painful time." But, she said, "Anthony has spent every day since then trying to be the best dad and husband he can be."

If he were to run, Weiner would be one of the best financed candidates among a crop of nearly seven mayoral hopefuls. He would trail only City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who leads the pack with more than $5 million on hand.

But some experts argue that all the money in the world couldn't help rehabilitate Weiner's political career.

"You can't buy your way out of the mess he got himself in," said Robert Bellafiore, a communications consultant and former press secretary to Republican Gov. George Pataki.

News of Weiner's salacious online activity sparked a national frenzy last summer, as his initial denial of any wrongdoing came under intense media scrutiny. Soon X-rated photos surfaced on the Internet, and several women — including former pornography actress Ginger Lee — came forward to say he had sexted them.

The former congressman landed on front pages across the nation, often appearing in his hometown tabloids accompanied by mocking, pun-filled headlines.

"People don't elect punch lines," Bellafiore said.

Even so, political recoveries from highly publicized sex scandals have happened before.

Former President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, left office with soaring approval ratings less than two years after his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky threatened his presidency. And in 2010, Republican Louisiana Sen. David Vitter won re-election despite revelations a few years earlier that he used a Beltway escort service.

Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who resigned in 2008 amid a prostitution scandal, hasn't attempted a comeback on the campaign trail. Nevertheless, he has returned to public life as a commentator, with shows on CNN, Current TV and now NY1.

On Tuesday, Spitzer wouldn't speculate on NY1 whether a 2013 campaign would be a smart move for Weiner, calling it "a personal decision." The Democratic former governor said it might be too early for a re-entry into politics, adding that Weiner above all needs to demonstrate that he's grown and learned from his mistakes.

"The public will grant him some slack if he shows that there's some maturity," Spitzer said.

Political analyst Lawrence Levy, executive dean of Hofstra University's National Center for Suburban Studies, believes a run for lesser office — like New York City public advocate — would be a good place for Weiner to start if he plans a return to politics.

"I think anybody can come back these days, short of committing major felonies," Levy said.

What remains to be seen is whether the city's voters will be so forgiving.

A Marist poll conducted six weeks after Weiner's resignation, the most recent survey to include the former congressman, found that only 26 percent of registered voters wanted to see him run for mayor. Sixty-four percent of respondents said he should sit the race out.

"It takes a certain amount of chutzpah to run New York City, and if he runs he'll certainly prove he's got a ton of it," said Richard Laman, 59, as he was taking a break outside his midtown Manhattan office. Laman said he would consider voting for Weiner next year.

Asked if Weiner was politically dead, Laman added: "Not in New York. No one's ever politically dead in New York."


Associated Press Writer Deepti Hajela contributed to this report.