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Can Weiner win back New Yorkers?

By Errol Louis, Special to CNN
May 23, 2013 -- Updated 1945 GMT (0345 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Errol Louis: Anthony Weiner launched his mayoral candidacy, touting, ideas promise
  • He says his media star power double-edged sword; scrutiny of his texts led to his undoing
  • He says Weiner, middle class champion, lives on Park Ave
  • Louis: Weiner skilled, experienced politician; he'll need it in rough, on the ground race

Editor's note: Errol Louis is the host of "Inside City Hall," a nightly political show on NY1, a New York City all-news channel.

(CNN) -- Anthony Weiner's long-anticipated official announcement that he's running for mayor of New York City began with a slight glitch this week: A video announcing his candidacy was posted on YouTube in the middle of the night, then yanked off the site -- and eventually posted again.

The two-minute video did exactly what it was intended to do: launch Weiner 2.0, promoting him as an earnest family man bursting with energy, ideas and promise, and offering to lead New York City as its chief executive.

But the stutter-step in the timing is a metaphor for Weiner's relationship to media. It remains to be seen whether the same digital platforms that catapulted him to national prominence -- and later proved to be his undoing -- will end up being a blessing, a curse, or a distraction as Weiner joins a crowded race for City Hall.

Errol Louis
Errol Louis

There's no question that Weiner has media star power that far outstrips his half-dozen or so Democratic rivals. For years, he was a fixture on cable news programs, ready with quips, strategic insight, and fighting words fired at adversaries on the floor of Congress.

But almost exactly two years ago, the shadow side of Weiner's media life emerged, when the then-congressman mistakenly blasted a lewd photo to his thousands of Twitter followers. His conservative enemies pounced on the image and soon discovered -- and trumpeted to the world -- that Weiner was sending lascivious texts and photos to women around the country, some from his office on Capitol Hill.

After a short period in which he told outrageous lies about the photos, claiming his computer was hacked, Weiner quit Congress and dropped out of public life. He now says that the six women with whom he's known to have exchanged randy messages -- and the lies he told about it -- represent the sum total of his misbehavior. That may be true, although New York's political insiders generally assume more photos could emerge in the weeks ahead.

But the incident leaves Weiner as a strange media hybrid -- a star nationally, but an uprooted local candidate facing formidable challenges in his hometown. The national press finds him irresistible, with conservatives eager to bash him and liberals hoping to rehabilitate him. His wife, Huma Abedin, is a glamorous, globally famous personality in her own right, having served at the right hand of former Secretar of State Hillary Clinton.

Weiner's confessional interview
Anthony Weiner running for NYC mayor

The couple moved from Weiner's working-class apartment in Queens -- he happened to quit as New York's congressional boundaries were being redrawn, and his district was simply eliminated. Weiner now lives in a luxury building on Park Avenue in Manhattan, where paparazzi lie in wait to snap photos nearly every time he leaves the house.

To most New York politicians, such obsessive media attention would be considered a gift from the gods. But it's a double-edged sword for Weiner.

At the same time he was electrifying left-leaning audiences on national TV, Weiner was building a reputation in New York City as a centrist Democrat arguing for tax cuts and other relief for working-class New Yorkers. The son of a public school teacher and a lawyer, he made much of his middle-class roots and vowed to bring gritty, neighborhood-based values to city hall.

In local politics, that remains Weiner's central persona: a working-class truth teller, willing to ruffle feathers and challenge liberal orthodoxy. But it's hard to make that argument from Park Avenue, and Weiner's opponents seldom fail to mention his luxury digs, which are very much at odds with his persona as spokesman for the forgotten middle class.

No other candidate in the race comes close to having Weiner's years of experience in delivering talking points on camera, debating one-on-one and packaging complex policies in short, comprehensible bites. But New York City mayoral contests aren't decided on TV or Twitter. Residents like to see their candidates up close and personal, in literally hundreds of meetings of political clubs, church basements, block associations and the like.

Weiner has always been effective on the stump, but it remains to be seen how he'll be greeted. His video announcement was, among other things, a way to control his image. As he makes the rounds of debates, forums and other places where New Yorkers are known to give candidates an unscripted piece of their mind, we'll see if Weiner 2.0 will sell in the parts of New York that the national talking heads rarely visit.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Errol Louis.

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