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24th February

First Published in The New York Sun, February 24, 2005

By Andrew Wolf

Anthony Weiner is often compared to his predecessor in Congress, Senator Schumer. It is said that the most dangerous place in the world in the space between Mr. Schumer and a camera. So it is with Mr. Weiner.
When Mr. Schumer vacated his Brooklyn-Queens congressional seat in 1998 to challenge Senator D’Amato, Mr. Weiner, then a member of the City Council, emerged as the surprise winner over then-Assemblywoman Melinda Katz of Queens, the perceived frontrunner; his council colleague Noach Dear, who raised a ton of cash, but finished third in the Democratic primary, and Assemblyman Dan Feldman.

Like his mentor, Mr. Schumer, Mr. Weiner is focused on moving up and has set his sights on Gracie Mansion. He seeks to pull to the front of another four-candidate pack of Democrats and win the right to go head-tohead with Mayor Bloomberg in November.

Those surrounding Mr. Bloomberg are said to view Mr. Weiner as potentially the toughest Democrat to beat, but, of course, for Mr. Weiner to get to that point, he has to prevail in September’s primary.

Yesterday, on the steps of City Hall, Mr. Weiner unveiled a series of policy proposals in an attempt to identify himself as Mr. Bloomberg’s direct opposite. Where the mayor famously delegates authority to his staff, Mr. Weiner is the hands-on policy wonk.

The positions he has staked out, mainly on nitty-gritty issues, appear to reflect his own ideas.
It is hard to imagine Michael Bloomberg advocating for a decrease in parking ticket penalties in the outer boroughs.

The mayor’s strong suit, using technology to solve problems, is about to result in outfitting the city’s hated traffic agents with handheld computers that will produce nearly error-free parking tickets, resulting in a big boost in revenue.

Mr. Weiner, on the other hand, has been listening to local merchants and has identified the city’s draconian fines for offenses such as expired meters to be responsible for driving retail customers — and tax dollars — from neighborhood shopkeepers to the suburbs.

He proposes to return the estimated $17 million windfall to motorists by lowering fines.

On the issue of education, Mr. Weiner has staked out a veritable laundry list of positions to distance himself from the mayor’s increasingly troubled stewardship of the public schools. Polls indicate that this issue has become paramount in the minds of voters who are giving the mayor low marks for the first two-and-a-half years of his “Children First” initiative.

Opposing the top-down management Mr. Bloomberg has favored, Mr. Weiner has thrown down the gauntlet when he proposed putting student suspensions for disciplinary problems back in the hands of teachers and principals.

Similarly, he is deriding the “impact” program of flooding a small number of designated, albeit troubled, schools with police, while allowing problems to fester elsewhere.

He contrasts the Boston native Bloomberg with his own background as a graduate of Brooklyn Tech High School whose mother was a public school teacher.

Rather than talk in generalities, Mr. Weiner goes so far as to demand elimination of the controversial “balanced literacy” reading program, which has resulted in clashes with state and federal education officials and an open rebellion of teachers in his own district. Similarly, Mr. Weiner criticizes the Tweed math program and promises an end to “fuzzy” math instruction.

At a speech at Columbia University on Monday, as he lectured on his proposals,complete with charts that would make any policy wonk proud, Mr.Weiner reprised his criticism of the university administration for its handling of charges of faculty anti-Semitism.

Here he is Mr. Schumer at his best, willing to take on his issues, understanding the dynamics of the camera crews and reporters.

Equivocation makes no headlines, confrontation does.Typically, on this issue, Mr.Weiner was first out of the gate.

Armed with this laundry list of policy initiatives, Mr. Weiner now marches into battle. But before he can face the mayor, a prospect he relishes, he must first get past the rest of the Democratic field.

The first challenge is to pass Council Speaker Gifford Miller to stake a claim on white voters.At Columbia, Mr.Weiner criticized the speaker on his handling of the Jets stadium proposal, charging that the West Side zoning changes recently passed by the Council facilitates the stadium project, allowing Mr. Miller to play both ends of the controversy.

For Mr. Weiner, there are no gray areas. He has already identified an alternative stadium site in Willets Point, Queens.

Messrs. Miller and Weiner are locked in a virtual third-place tie in most polls, behind Fernando Ferrer, the former Bronx president, and C. Virginia Fields, the current Manhattan president. Mr. Miller has a considerable lead in fund-raising, but Mr. Weiner counts on his energy to compensate for the lack of cash — he likes shaking hands and kissing babies, skills many feel the wooden Mr. Miller lacks.

The Weiner strategy is to move, presumably past Ms. Fields, into second place, assuming that Mr. Ferrer fails to reach the 40% threshold needed to win the Democratic nod outright.

By forcing a runoff, Mr. Weiner assumes that a one-on-one position will allow his mastery of the details of the issues to intellectually bludgeon his opponent, whether Mr. Ferrer or Mr. Bloomberg, in the bright light of publicity.

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

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