By Tom Allon
Imagine that for more than a decade you’ve been plotting to become mayor of New York City and you have been blocked from that path by the wealthiest man in town.
You are a reasonably well-known congressman, but your name probably won’t resonate in Staten Island or with voters in Riverdale, Astoria or Bedford-Stuyvesant.
You have limited campaign dollars to spend to reach 8.2 million potential voters and you need to do something that will get your name recognition sky-high.
Then, one day it comes to you in an epiphany. What if you commit a sexless, high-profile indiscretion that will surely create a feeding frenzy on social media and in the tabloids?
Sure, it could lead to a year or two in the political wilderness seeking penance, but everyone knows that Americans — and New Yorkers — are suckers for a penitent comeback story.
Heck, even Bill Clinton became known as the Comeback Kid, and his sexual peccadilloes — much more egregious than a planned social media tweeting of private parts — did not get in the way of his ascent to the presidency.
“Wow,” Anthony Weiner thinks to himself, “this is a bold and risky move, but it just might work. I’ll achieve universal name recognition, skip that boring and tedious run-up campaign in 2012 and, as an extra bonus, get to spend real quality time with my newborn son.”
While the above conspiracy theory seems far-fetched, I have recently wondered whether this whole rollout by Weiner was all carefully planned two years ago.
Because so far, with Weiner vaulting past longtime New York pols Christine Quinn and Bill Thompson in the polls, the Twittergate scandal has given Weiner millions of dollars worth of free, well, exposure.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg spent a hundred million dollars on each campaign, give or take, to win in 2001, 2005 and 2009. Mark Green, who has run so many times for office in New York that I’ve lost count, said to me in 2009 when he was planning one last electoral stab at public advocate: “My name recognition is 90 percent. Do you know how much money you have to spend to get that high name recognition? Bloomberg-type money.”
Well, not if you’re Weiner circa 2013. Every move of his “reality show” campaign seems to draw media attention, even the color of his pants at the Gay Pride Parade.
When I was running for mayor last year, I used to jokingly say I probably had to announce that I was going to light myself on fire in Times Square to get throngs of media to listen to my policy ideas.
Not so with the crafty and media-savvy Weiner.
But while universal name recognition may get you into the top tier in the July polls and maybe even into the mayoral run-off in September, it is no guarantee of victory.
Just ask Green, the once “almost mayor” of 2001 and the 90 percent name recognition guy in 2009 who lost to Bill de Blasio for public advocate.
Not all name recognition is positive.
Weiner could learn that the hard way this fall, but wouldn’t it be a stroke of cynical genius if the Weiner circus was all a planned mayoral strategy?
Tom Allon, president of City & State NY, was a Republican and Liberal Party-backed mayoral candidate in 2013 before he left to return to the private sector. Reach him at [email protected].