The Politician Turned Sex Offender
When I first heard of Anthony Weiner in the news, as a 14-year-old, I thought he had a very unfortunate name for the trouble he was getting very publicly into. But Weiner was a representative who served close to home. I lived in Queens, while Weiner served in New York’s 9th congressional district in Brooklyn.
Weiner’s fall from grace was after being in the House of Representatives for 12 years, serving his. On May 19, 2017, Weiner pleaded guilty to a sexting charge of transferring obscene material to a minor.
“I have a sickness, but I do not have an excuse,” Weiner told the court in 2017. According to Lindsey Vever at the Washington Post, soon, Weiner would have to register as a sex offender. While he was undergoing trial for the sex scandal, his wife, Huma Abedin, Hillary Clinton’s closest advisor, was filing for divorce.
It seemed like Weiner’s whole world was crashing down, and not for the first time either.
The girl involved in the case was 15 years old, and Weiner was accused of many sexting scandals and inappropriate texts with other women. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York said that Weiner had used texts and video chat applications to show sexually explicit images, and asked the girl to engage in sexual conduct.
Weiner later spent 18 months in federal prison, and now, Anthony Weiner is trying to start over. According to Sean Neumann of People Magazine, Weiner is now the CEO of a New York City countertop company called IceStone. The company says it’s “giving the Earth and its people second chances.” The company website wants to hire previously incarcerated people, the homeless, refugees, and other people looking for redemption in society.
This is the story of Anthony Weiner’s rise in politics, fall amidst scandal, and search for redemption after registering as a sex offender and serving time in prison.
Weiner was born in Brooklyn, New York, as the son of Jewish parents — his father was a lawyer, and his mother was a public school math teacher. He attended P.S. 39 and had two brothers. Timothy Burger at the New York Daily News notes that Weiner’s older brother, Seth Weiner, was killed in a hit and run accident in 2000. Weiner’s younger brother, Jason Weiner, is a chef.
Weiner eventually went to the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, and while he was doing an exchange program, where according to Jessica Pressler at the Intelligencer, he became friends with Jon Stewart after the two shared an apartment in Soho, Manhattan.
After graduating from college, Weiner joined the staff of Senator Chuck Schumer. He worked for Schumer for three years, and then Schumer encouraged Weiner to pursue local politics in Brooklyn.
In 1991, Weiner ran for the New York City Council and faced heavy competition in doing so. It was a long shot for Weiner since he didn’t have that much money to campaign with. Many politicians in the area opposed Weiner, but Weiner launched a grassroots campaign on the slogan “no promises, just hard work.”
He became the winner of a six-way Democratic primary and became the youngest person ever elected to City Council — and he won by less than 200 votes. In a mostly white district, Weiner was accused of distributing a flier that associated his opponent, Adele Cohen, with riots that happened in the city earlier, stoking racially-charged fears. However, Weiner never admitted to distributing the fliers.
Weiner, at 27 years old, tried to address many quality of life concerns in the city. While in the City Council, he tried to get at-risk teens to clean up graffiti in the area.
Seven years later, Weiner ran in the 9th congressional district, a district previously held by Chuck Schumer, Weiner’s mentor. Schumer was running for Senate, and Weiner won the Democratic primary in the district. Weiner had a pro-choice platform, advocated for Medicare for all Americans, and voted in favor of giving military force for the War on Iraq.
During his time in the House, Weiner had one of the highest staff turnover rates in the New York House. He was widely associated with cruelty and anger towards his staff. Weiner claimed he pushed his staff very hard because he had high standards, and according to David Chen at the New York Times, Weiner was “without question one of the most intense and demanding” bosses. He reportedly required his employees to message him on the weekends and be ready to respond at any time. He yelled at employees all the time and accredited his leadership style and the perception that he was always yelling to growing up in Brooklyn. Some were critical of him, while others praised his dedication.
First sexting scandal
In 2011, Weiner used his Twitter account to send a sexually explicit photo of himself to a woman who was following him on Twitter. He initially denied sending the photo at all, but a 21-year-old student at a college near Seattle said she received “a photo of an erection barely covered by a man’s underwear.” According to Jack Kelly at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Weiner claimed his account was hacked and that he was the victim of a prank.
“I’m going to say that I can’t say with certitude it’s me or it’s not,” Weiner said to Rachel Maddow on MSNBC.
Initially, no writer reported on the story besides blogger Andrew Breitbart, founder of Breitbart. Democrats rushed to defend Weiner, and Republicans urged Weiner to explain himself in an episode of political football in Congress. But as more details emerged, Weiner hired an attorney to defend himself against alleged hacking instead of asking the police to investigate it, a strange move to other Congress members. The New York Post reported that Weiner had traded private messages on Twitter with a pornstar.
This turned into a media frenzy as Weiner’s allegations of his account being hacked seemed more likely to be manufactured. Weiner dodged many questions being asked by reporters in TV interviews, and more often than not deflected back at reporters, “insulted them for asking,” according to Kelly. One CNN host said that one Weiner interview was:
“Sort of like watching one of those Buddhist monks set himself on fire. You feel bad for the guy, but it’s impossible not to watch it.”
Jennifer Preston at the New York Times reported that fake identities were used on Twitter to gain information on Weiner. A small group of self-described conservatives created false identities to get information to take down Weiner. One posed as a 16-year-old girl in California and tried to get Weiner to be her prom date, while another posed as her friend.
In another bizarre episode of Weiner’s first sexting scandal, according to Jonathan Allen and Maggie Haberman at Politico, Weiner admitted to speaking with a 17-year-old high school girl in Delaware on Twitter, which then involved law enforcement probing the girl’s family. The girl tweeted “talking to Rep Weiner from New York right now! is my life real?” However, none of the exchanges were “salacious or in any manner inappropriate,” according to the girl’s family.
Weiner eventually couldn’t deny the allegations anymore. Breitbart made public a cropped photo of Weiner in gray underwear, and Weiner publicly conceded it “was of me, and I sent it.”
At a press conference on June 6, 2011, Weiner told reporters:
“I am deeply regretting what I have done, and I am not resigning…I am deeply sorry for the pain this has caused Huma, my wife, and my family.”
He later said that he had made “terrible mistakes” and insisted he never had sex with any of the at least half dozen women he met online. Weiner said that he hadn’t been honest with himself and his family, and that he shouldn’t have sent lewd photos to women particularly when he was married. He would apologize for his actions repeatedly and be the subject of widespread media attention during press conferences.
Many people then called for Weiner to step down. As you can imagine, the reaction in Congress was divided by partisan lines — Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Weiner should undergo an investigation by the House Ethics Committee to give him a fair process. Reince Priebus, the Chair of the Republican National Committee, said Weiner should resign. Republican Eric Cantor, the House Majority Leader, said:
“The last thing we need is to be immersed in discussion about Congressman Weiner and his Twitter activities.”
Other Democrats started breaking rank with Pelosi after her immediate reaction. On June 11, 2011, Pelosi and then-Democratic National Committee Chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, urged Weiner to resign to enter a “treatment center.” While one poll said the majority (56%) of people in Weiner’s district wanted him to stay, on June 13, 2011, President Obama then said “if it was me, I would resign,” lamenting that the whole Weiner episode had become a series of major distractions. Obama reiterated that public service should be about helping people pay their mortgages and bills.
On June 16, 2011, Weiner announced he would resign from Congress in Brooklyn.
Second sexting scandal
In 2013, Weiner returned the politics, running for New York City mayor. He told a reporter:
“I want to ask people to give me a second chance. I do want to have that conversation with people whom I let down and with people who put their faith in me and who wanted to support me. I think to some degree I do want to say to them, ‘Give me another chance.’”
Weiner would receive a variety of high profile endorsements, including that of Rep. Keith Ellison, who said Weiner deserved a second chance. Ellison said Weiner “was a great congressman” and that “nobody here is perfect.”
Weiner would run on a platform summarized by the title: “Keys to the City: 64 Ideas to Keep New York the Capital of the Middle Class.” However, Weiner would be embroiled in a sexting scandal — again. A website called The Dirty released sexually explicit photos of Weiner’s penis posted on the Internet, which it alleged Weiner sent to a young woman in late 2012. The photos were sent under the pseudonym of “Carlos Danger.”
Weiner then admitted he still sent inappropriate online messages to women after his sexting scandal. He admitted that many of the messages were sent after he resigned.
However, this time, Weiner was much less ashamed. He refused to resign from the mayoral race. Huma Abedin said during the news conference:
“I love him, I have forgiven him, I believe in him.”
The woman who Weiner was sexting then released her identity on CNN, and on July 23, 2013, the New York Times Editorial Board called for Weiner to resign. A poll taken after the second scandal found that Weiner’s favorability ratings plunged by 20 points, and he lost the lead in New York’s mayor race.
It’s very difficult to fathom that Weiner almost would have been the mayor of New York, instead of Bill De Blasio, if the scandal had not been revealed.
On July 25, 2013, Weiner held a press conference in Brooklyn where he admitted to sexting three women in his months after his resignation, and there had been six to ten women he sexted, not “dozens and dozens” of women. The next day, Weiner’s campaign manager, Danny Kedem, quit. In the words of Michael Barbaro at the New York Times:
“The disclosures clashed with Mr. Weiner’s claims that he had been rehabilitated after undergoing therapy and his suggestion that such behavior had long ago stopped.”
The Huffington Post reported that during the Democratic Primary, Weiner came in fifth place, winning 4.9% of the vote. Bill De Blasio won and is still the mayor of New York City today.
In 2015, Weiner started working for the MWW Group, a crisis management PR firm in New York City, to serve on its board of advisors. The firm eventually pushed Weiner out after only two months of him working with the company. Michael Kempner, the chief of the company, said:
“It has become clear that a handful of people and a few media outlets continue to be fixated on Anthony.”
Hillary Clinton’s emails, and third sexting scandal
According to Rebecca Rosenberg and Bruce Golding at the New York Post, Weiner wasn’t done with sexting. He sent a sexted a lurid photo of his crotch with his toddler son in the picture on July 31, 2015. The Post reported on the story on August 28, 2016, only two months and a half before the 2016 Presidential Election, where Abedin was working as the top aide to Hillary Clinton.
The day after his third sexting scandal was revealed, Huma Abedin and Anthony Weiner announced they were separating. Rachel Brodsky at the Rolling Stone reported that Weiner pleaded guilty to the charge of sending obscene material to a minor after sexting a 15-year-old girl. Weiner had started talking to the girl through Twitter, and then they chatted through apps like Skype and Confide. He sent her shirtless photos often, and asked her to engage in promiscuous behaviors over the camera.
“I accept full responsibility for my conduct. I have a sickness, but I do not have an excuse. I apologize to everyone I have hurt,” Weiner said.
These revelations happened in late September of 2016, and harmed the Clinton campaign. F.B.I. director James Comey resurfaced an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private e-mail server as part of an F.B.I. investigation into Weiner’s illicit text messages. Comey later said the emails “appear to be pertinent.” Apparently, many emails belonging to Huma Abedin were on Weiner’s laptop. As part of the F.B.I. investigation, Weiner’s laptop, iPad, and cellphone were seized. Donald Trump took advantage of the revelations, saying:
“I only worry for the country in that Hillary Clinton was careless and negligent in allowing Weiner to have such close proximity to highly classified information…Who knows what he learned and who he told?”
On January 31, 2017, prosecutors weighed whether they should bring child pornography charges against Weiner. On May 19, 2017, Weiner pleaded guilty to a federal obscenity charge. He would have to register as a sex offender and faced 18 months in prison. After Weiner was taken into supervision by the F.B.I., he had to report to a federal prison in Massachusetts. At his sentencing, Weiner said he had a sex addiction and was a “very sick man for a very long time.”
On February 17, 2019, Weiner was released from prison, and registered as a Level 1 sex offender in April. Being a Level 1 sex offender, under Megan’s Law, means, according to Michael Sisak at the Associated Press, “he is thought to have a low risk of reoffending.” He is still under about a year and a half of court supervision.
At the end of the day, Weiner’s sexting problem cost him his marriage, his family, his career, his reputation, and harmed the lives of many.
Redemption is possible for Anthony Weiner, as it is anyone. It’s hard not to be changed after the kind of fall from grace that Weiner had, but he did send sexually suggestive nudes to many women, and even a minor, when he knew the repercussions and risk as a high-profile politician in Congress.
But were Weiner’s acts more out of malice or more out of him having an addiction? And if it’s the latter, does Weiner deserve more of our sympathy than he’s been given across the media?
Psychologists analyzing Weiner’s behavior seem to not come to a consensus. Many agree that Weiner lacked impulse control and took a lot of unnecessary risks, especially in such a high stakes profession. Mary Aiken, a cyber-psychologist and author of The Cyber Effect wrote in Politico that Weiner’s “behavior is so reckless it defies logic,” and attributes the “powerful, sometimes overwhelming temptations that the world offers to exhibitionists” as the trend behind Weiner’s behavior. Psychologist Jeannette Stern, who is a psychiatric social worker, says Weiner has “more of an addiction issue.”
“Obviously, he could not stop himself. . . . He definitely has an impulsivity problem,” Stern said.
Anna Fels, another psychiatrist interviewed by Bruce Handy at Vanity Fair, said Weiner’s behavior was especially concerning because of the damage it was causing not only the women, but his family, career, and every part of his life. She said he had very poor judgment and impulse control for someone in public office. And Meg Kaplan, a clinical psychologist at Columbia, pushed back against Weiner having an addiction because “there’s not a substance involved,” and because “sexuality is normal.”
Joe Kort at Psychology Today wrote a piece titled “Anthony Weiner Is Not a Sex Addict” in September, 2016, especially since the mental health field does not recognize the diagnosis of sex addiction because it oversimplifies the issue, and urges people not to pathologize Weiner’s acts because human sexuality is a very complex issue.
“The point here is, there is nothing inherently wrong with sexting, but there is something very wrong within the context in which Weiner did it. Calling it an addiction does not get to the root of the problem,” Kort said.
On another note, was Weiner responsible for Hillary Clinton losing to Trump? Well, a lot of things were responsible, but Weiner sexting a minor probably didn’t help since it reopened the F.B.I. investigations into her e-mails.
At this point, Weiner admits his days in politics are far from over and that he won’t be on a ballot any time soon. He knows many believe he is part of the many reasons Hillary lost to Trump. Although Huma Abedin filed for divorce in 2017, Andrew Siff at NBC says “they seem to have reconciled.”
What is known now is that at IceStone, Weiner is far from politics, and his new profession, which makes countertops out of broken glass, represents how he views himself in a redemptive manner:
“I’m an embodiment of the idea people redefine themselves and that no one should be disposed of…We take things that can be recycled and used again,” he said.
Where will Weiner go from here? It’s safe to say he probably won’t be going back into public office. I hope that at the end of the day, he will be able to live “a life of integrity and service,” as he told reporters after leaving federal prison.