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27th April

First Published in The New York Sun, April 27 , 2005

By Andrew Wolf

The rap on Anthony Weiner, the Brooklyn-Queens Democratic congressman who wants to become mayor, is that he really isn’t serious about winning the job this year, but is positioning himself for 2009.I don’t believe that this is his motivation. I am convinced that when he takes his place on the platform with the other three Democratic hopefuls, he looks from side to side and tells himself, “I’m smarter than they are, so why shouldn’t I be mayor?”

Mr. Weiner has a built-in advantage that gives credence to the idea that he is willing to defer his dream. Win, lose, or draw, either in September or November, he has a job to go back to the next morning. He is young, energetic and he is impressing audiences. The next round of polling may show Mr. Weiner pulling into a serious, solid third-place position. Unless lightning strikes the campaign of Gifford Miller, the council speaker seems destined to fall into last place among the four Democratic contenders.
Can Mr.Weiner do it this year? It has been pointed out that he is doing better now than Edward Koch was at this point in 1977 — against a much stronger field. A big part of Mr. Miller’s problem is that he does have a job, at least until December 31.

He presides over a legislative body that has become a municipal joke. It used to be said that the New York City Council is not even as effective as a rubber stamp, because at least a rubber stamp makes an impression. The council does make an impression now — a bad one. There seems to be no issue too trivial for the council to take up, nor does it pass up any opportunity to take stands on issues it has no control over.

Symbolic of the council’s irrelevancy is the ongoing circus over the “investigation” into one of its members, Allan Jennings of Queens. Mr. Jennings has a proclivity toward bizarre behavior, particularly in his dealings with women.This is nothing new. With considerable knowledge of Mr. Jennings’s ways, his constituents nevertheless decided to re-elect him less than two years ago.They have another shot at him just a few months from now in September.

Somehow, Mr. Miller’s handling of this issue appears to have done more damage to him than to Mr. Jennings. The council, at the speaker’s direction, has spent an enormous amount of time and money looking into Mr. Jennings’s activities. Much of this was done in secret, and it all dragged on interminably. The result satisfied no one.

There are ample forums for those with grievances against Mr. Jennings to seek redress.Those unfortunate enough to have sought employment from the councilman have legal recourse outside of the council. Council members have the full discretion to fill positions on their own staffs.To them,Mr.Jennings is the boss, and the law protects employees from sexual harassment.

The involvement of the council itself raises larger questions.

If the good people of Jamaica want Mr. Jennings to represent them, why should the council intervene? This may not be the most politically correct solution, but had Mr. Miller employed that strategy, this story would have faded long ago. Instead, it was allowed to drag out, making Mr. Miller seem indecisive and incompetent.

For all of the criticism swirling around Mr. Jennings, as well as the stripping of the committee posts, the $5,000 fine, and the censure, it is still possible, if not probable, that he will be re-elected.There is some evidence that this episode has created sympathy for Mr. Jennings in his district. He will face opposition, probably from Thomas White, his predecessor in the council. This would be good news for Mr. Jennings,since Mr.White was not known as the most energetic legislator during his time in office. Mr. Jennings as an insurgent lost to Mr. White when Mr. White was the incumbent. But now, the shoe is on the other foot. Mr. Jennings, written off before, has shown that he can overcome adversity.

Should Mr. Miller prevail in the September primary, or at least make it to the runoff, a Jennings victory in the September election will then seem as a rebuke of Mr. Miller’s leadership and an embarrassment at a very inconvenient moment.

Meanwhile, it appears possible that the council will attempt its own version of the nuclear option, a rollback or outright repeal of term limits.This maneuver would take place in December, well after the election, a no-risk gambit for the council members.A handful will be packing their bags, and have nothing to lose, while a vast majority of the council, as many as 44 of them, will become lame ducks who also would have nothing to lose by voting for repeal.

Look for pro-term limit forces to soon be asking for a pre-election pledge — and for this to become an issue not just in the council elections, but the mayoral election as well.

© 2005 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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