By Michelle Han
U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills), who recently completed his first year in Congress, last week endorsed Vice President Al Gore for president in the Democratic primary.
Weiner gave his endorsement of Gore during a breakfast meeting Friday in Howard Beach with reporters and editors from five community newspapers in Queens. He used the informal discussion at Tom's On the Bay diner to highlight what he considered to be his best efforts as a freshman Congressman over the past year and to respond to questions on any subject.
When a reporter asked him who he was endorsing in the presidential and senatorial races this fall, Weiner reluctantly revealed that he had chosen Gore after careful thinking.
“I became convinced he was the better candidate,” he said, while acknowledging that Gore differs only slightly on several points from his challenger for the Democratic nomination, Bill Bradley.
“[Gore] has looked better and better,” Weiner said. “He has shown his ability to carry the votes and to win.”
On the Republican side, Weiner said he feared John McCain more than George W. Bush, believing McCain's popular insurgency campaign would be far more dangerous to Gore.
For the U.S. Senate seat, Weiner said first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton was “head and shoulders” above her opponent, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. “I think she's the better senator and I think she's going to win,” he said.
He also endorsed U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Sunnyside), who was hand-picked by his predecessor Thomas Manton, the Queens Democratic Party boss who announced he was stepping down too late for anyone to file papers to run for his seat. City Councilman Walter McCaffrey (D-Woodside) recently announced he would challenge Crowley in the Democratic primary this year.
Weiner said it was important for New York City representatives to gain seniority in Washington, where Republican heavyweights like Sen. Trent Lott and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich have diverted disproportionate amounts of federal money to their home states of Mississippi and Georgia.
“These Southern guys, they develop seniority, they stay there a long time,” Weiner said. He said he hoped to lead a long career as a congressman representing Brooklyn and Queens.
Touching on the highlights of his first year in Congress, Weiner said, “I'd like to think if I've been graded on effort, I'd get an A.”
He described himself as “the squeaky wheel,” especially in the effort to reduce airplane noise for Queens neighborhoods affected by the city's airports, Kennedy International and LaGuardia.
“As it stands today there is no requirement for aircraft to get any quieter,” he said. The congressman recently released a study that said the Port Authority lagged behind the nation's major airports in funding efforts to mitigate airplane noise.
He said President Clinton approved $100 million for airplane noise research in the federal budget this year.
On the crime-fighting front, he said he sponsored a bill to put $60 million toward DNA testing on rape kits in New York City, which cost $700 per test.
Weiner said it would be important for the city to monitor any cases of West Nile virus, the illness which made its first Western Hemisphere appearances this summer in Queens.
The city's use of malathion, the chemical used to kill mosquitoes that carry the disease, probably did not do real harm, he said, but added that he opposed a repeat of the massive aerial spraying that took place last year.
“We have to make sure we do not get into a frenzy every year,” he said. “At the end of the day, I think the smartest thing we can do is track this thing.”
Weiner's district, split roughly in half between Brooklyn and Queens, stretches from Park Slope, where he grew up, to Forest Hills, Rego Park, and parts of Kew Gardens, Briarwood and Jamaica Hills.
He was elected in 1998 when his predecessor and mentor, Chuck Schumer, became the U.S. senator after defeating Republican incumbent Al D'Amato. He served for seven years as a city councilman from Brooklyn.
Weiner, who is up for re-election in November, picked up the endorsement last week of City Councilman Al Stabile (R-Howard Beach), who supported his opponent, City Councilman Noach Dear (D-Brooklyn), in the 1998 election.
Weiner said he attended nearly 500 meetings with community groups, 300 of which were in Queens.
He has been visible in Forest Hills, where he marched with activists in a demonstration against litter last fall. He appeared with the area's city and state representatives several weeks later in a Town Hall meeting to discuss cleaning up Forest Hills and Rego Park.
At 35, Weiner is not the youngest member of Congress. He said he believed he ranked ninth or tenth from the bottom of the House of Representatives agewise.
But he added: “I can say I am the youngest Jewish, federal elected official.”