by Brendan O’Connor
It was standing room only at The Ainsworth on 26th Street last night, right by BuzzFeed’s headquarters, so that BuzzFeed edit honcho Ben Smith could interview Anthony Weiner. “You’re gonna wanna whip out your press passes,” said the bouncer. “Go ahead. Whip ’em out.” He laughed. Onstage, Smith sipped what looked like a very light beer. Weiner got wolf-whistled as he walked onto the stage. For him, there was something that was maybe an iced coffee. “Anthony has stopped drinking, in case you missed that,” Smith said. For the audience, there were a lot of snacks.
A woman in town from Boston for work told me that she found the whole thing “Sad, and a little bit funny… mostly people just laugh and then go back to ignoring it.”
To my right sat someone from EXTRA. “Because what is Weiner if not entertainment?” she said. “I really hope he digs himself into a hole tonight.”
When BuzzFeed reached out to his campaign to set up the interview, Weiner was leading the polls. Siena College yesterday announced that he set a record unfavorability rating of 80%.
“No one did this to me,” Weiner said. “I did this to me. I made these mistakes.”
To the meat: The last time he sent anything inappropriate to anyone other than his wife was about a year ago, he said. The texts he exchanged with Sydney Leathers up until April 12th of this year were, Weiner said, “completely how-ya-doing, whaddya-think-of-this.”
Smith asked Weiner if he is back in therapy. Weiner joked that you’re never really out of therapy. “They just have this thing where you just remain in forever,” he said.
Smith asked Weiner how often he sees his therapist. “I see my therapist when I can,” said Weiner. “It’s tough on the campaign trail.”
Smith made a gibe — one of several — about Weiner’s scandal. “You can do this,” Weiner said, drawing his breath, his eyes darting left and right as he prepared to try to deliver a zinger. “Or you can post videos of cats, or whatever you do at BuzzFeed.”
“We do it all,” Smith said.
“Substance and politics doesn’t get covered in a campaign like this,” Weiner said, unbelievably. “It’s almost, like, mocked that you would do substance. And I’ve done it every single day. Voters respond to it, but frankly reporters don’t really…” He trailed off. “There’s no space for it, particularly in a municipal race.”
Someone was in the bathroom drying their hands and we could all hear it.
So, let’s see, substance: Weiner said that, somehow, he doesn’t think that New York City’s stop-and-frisk tactics having just been roundly trounced by the courts disqualifies Ray Kelly from heading up the Department of Homeland Security. Right.
Weiner talked about the qualities people want in a mayor that he thinks he exemplifies. Toughness is one. Audacity is another. He talked about talking about “ideas” so much so that he sounded more like a prospectus for a liberal arts college than a candidate for mayor. “The fundamental ethos of my campaign and also my private life is I like ideas.”
“Why not use Snapchat?” Smith asked.
“I don’t have a good answer for that,” Weiner said. Smith laughed. Weiner didn’t. Actually, Weiner was mostly humorless throughout the whole event. Huma wasn’t here either. You might say he was… Huma-less.
Contrary to popular belief, Weiner is not anti-bike, or anti-bike lanes; he is anti-bad bike lanes. He whipped out his key chain and showed it to everyone. He has a Citibike fob. “I take bike share to my campaign events,” he said.
So after reminiscing about the time he told Mayor Bloomberg he would tear out his “fucking bike lanes,” Weiner complained about “policy jihadists” — which sound a lot like the “Powerful Voices” of his new campaign ad — who have set themselves against him.
“Around all policies there are jihadists in this town,” he said.
Smith asked him who of the other Democratic candidates he would vote for, or if there is anyone he would refuse to vote for. Weiner dodged, saying that’d be impossible, given that he is going to be the Party’s candidate.
And if lightning strikes? Smith asked.
“That would be the only bad luck thing that hasn’t happened,” Weiner said, and laughed.
He dismissed critics who point to his legislative record — or lack thereof. “I fought like the dickens” for a single-payer health-care bill and for the 9/11 responders bill, he said. Like the dickens, he said.
Let’s go to the transcript.
Do you think —
That makes them nuts.
— Arthur Sulzberger has a problem with you? Do you have a sense of where that’s —
I actually wouldn’t —
— coming from?
I couldn’t pick him out of — I couldn’t pick him out of a lineup. He’s alive, right? (LAUGH) That — that would be bad if he wasn’t.
I don’t know — I don’t know which is worse.
Who owns it — well, who — who —
What — what baseball team owns them?
BEN SMITH: Own — owns the New York Times? I’m not sure which baseball team owns the New York Times.
I think that’s a question for the audience.
Did Bezos buy them, too?
Serious issues! “I do not care,” he said, responding to “the haters” at the New York Times. “And it makes them nuts that I don’t care.” Ha ha, nuts.
Brendan O’Connor is an Awl summer reporter. Photo by Macey J. Foronda for BuzzFeed.