Behind in the Polls, Weiner Plays on New Yorkers’ Sympathies

The scandal-plagued mayoral candidate is making a defiant appeal to voters to save his flagging campaign

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New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner speaks to reporters during a press conference where he admitted to sending sexually explicit text messages in New York City, on July 23, 2013

In a video emailed to supporters last week, mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner made a plea to New York voters. “I know that there are newspaper editors and other politicians that say, boy I wish that guy Weiner would quit,” he said into the camera. “They don’t know New York, [they] certainly don’t know me. Quit isn’t the way we roll in New York City. We fight through tough things.” But “tough” doesn’t even begin to describe Weiner’s predicament.

After revelations that Weiner had continued to exchange lewd messages with strangers over the internet a year after he resigned from Congress over similar behavior, a Quinnipiac University poll of likely Democratic primary voters showed Weiner dropped ten points from front-runner to fourth place.

In an attempt to rescue his floundering campaign, Weiner has positioned himself as the persecuted underdog, a perception he hopes can repair his relationship with an electorate still reeling from his latest scandal.

(MORE: Weiner Scandal Puts Clinton Political Machine to the Test)

“It’s the only strategy left to him,” says Bill Cunningham, a political consultant and former communications director for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “He is playing to New Yorkers who like an underdog, who like a scrappy fighter, but he is not talking to any body’s real needs.”

With a little more than a month to go before the Democratic primary, Weiner’s David-versus-Goliath campaign narrative seems to be gaining some traction with African-American voters. The Quinnipiac poll showed that likely black voters were more willing to give Weiner the benefit of the doubt—52% thought he should drop out of the race compared with 64% of white voters. And 24% of black voters said they would vote for Weiner compared with 16% of the total number of likely Democratic voters.

At a campaign forum in Queens last week, a largely African-American audience booed when Republican candidate George McDonald called Weiner a “self-pleasuring freak,” according to a report from The New York Times. And over the weekend, Weiner was “mobbed” like a celebrity by mostly black supporters at the Jamaica Arts and Music Summer festival in Jamaica, Queens, according to the New York Daily News.

“Anthony is playing to that to a certain degree, saying I’m just like you, I’m an underdog too and some can identify with that because that syndrome is so deep in our community,” says Herb Boyd, a reporter for the New York Amsterdam News and a professor of Black Studies at the City College of New York.

(MORE: A History Of “Sl#tb*g,” the Latest Unflattering Word Associated With Anthony Weiner)

But observers of the race say that sympathy from black voters may not translate into votes on September 10. Bill Thompson, the only African-American candidate, is expected to pick up a large share of black support. On July 28, Thompson roused his base with a speech tying George Zimmerman’s killing of Trayvon Martin to the New York Police Department’s “stop-and-frisk” policy, which critics say institutionalizes racial profiling.

Thompson won the endorsement of the New York Amsterdam News, the city’s leading African-American paper, which also called for Weiner to drop out of the race. Boyd, who voted on the endorsement, is confident that “African Americans, the majority, are going to go with Bill Thompson because of the identity piece.”

Ruben Diaz Jr., the Bronx Borough President and a Thompson supporter, says that African-American and Latino voters are only just now starting to get engaged in the race and will ultimately back Thompson. “We are a community who understands personal turmoil, we understand redemption, we understand forgiveness, [but] that is different than wanting Weiner to represent us as mayor of New York,” he says. “We trust Bill, we know his history.”

(MORE: Anthony Weiner’s Brutal Week)

Weiner might not even be black voters’ second choice. Bill de Blasio, the city’s public advocate, has made inroads with his outspoken stance against the closure of city hospitals and his personal life (his wife is African-American). John Liu, who has called for the abolishment of stop-and-frisk (Thompson has stopped short, calling instead for reform) and showed up at a large number of African American community events “might be a candidate to watch,” says Nayaba Arinde, an editor at the Amsterdam News. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who leads most polls, did not try for the paper’s endorsement, according to editors, and has faced criticism over her ties to Bloomberg.

Political analysts say early polling doesn’t accurately reflect voting patterns because most voters are not yet fully engaged. That gives candidates with high name recognition like Weiner an early, but fleeting edge. “Weiner seems to be polling surprisingly well among minority communities, but the campaign looks like its deflating and as more and more black voters find out that Bill Thompson is black, it is going to shift,” says Doug Muzzio, a pollster and political science professor at Baruch College who specializes in voting behavior. “He would have to get sizable percentage of that vote to be competitive, and he ain’t going to get it.”

Meanwhile, Weiner’s campaign continues to be beset by indignities. At the Ecuadorian parade on Sunday, he marched to chants of “Carlos Danger,” his sexting pseudonym. Weiner’s former online paramour, Sydney Leathers, just released a short online sex film, holding a fake New York newspaper with the headline “Weinergate” under her bare breasts. And pranksters have begun to post fake advertisements for interns requesting “no slutbags”—a reference to the language Weiner’s Communications Director used to describe an intern last week. Right now it seems unlikely that a twinge of sympathy from any group of New Yorkers will save him.

MORE: Wife at His Side, Weiner Admits to More Online Sex Chats