The New York political campaign season is designed so that the optimistic hothouses of polling firms and campaign consultancies can cultivate exotic candidacies in March and April, and the unremitting glares of voters can cause them to wilt them on the hot, unforgiving sands of Orchard Beach and the Far Rockaways in July and August. Well, it is July, and far from wilting, the frailest, most damaged candidate, Anthony Weiner, is flourishing, and actually leads in one poll. Last week, as Michael Barbaro reported in the Times, Weiner had a pure Kochian moment, a moment of undiluted New Yorky obstreperousness of the sort where an ordinary candidate can turn into the kind of public character that voters usually love or grudgingly admire. The exchange, between Weiner and a man objected to Weiner’s 2002 vote in Congress to support the war in Iraq.
WEINER: Sir, sir, simply because I am a candidate doesn’t give you a right to be disrespectful. All right, watch this, watch this! (He slowly turns his back to the heckler, in a conspicuous snub, and begins talking to an old woman.) How are you?
HECKLER: You should be ashamed of yourself!
WEINER: I’m ignoring you.
HECKLER: So Anthony Weiner, apparently, is afraid of free speech!
WEINER: Stop yelling at me.
HECKLER: You should apologize.
WEINER: You’re showing no respect. I am talking to somebody.
HECKLER: You showed no respect to our soldiers who died because of your shameful vote.
WEINER: You know what? I’m showing you all the respect you deserve.
HECKLER: You showed no respect —
WEINER: Cut it out! Stop with the show! You’re acting like a bozo.
(At this point, others in the crowd began to turn on the HECKLER.)
MAN: You made your point.
WOMAN: Did you ever serve in the Army or Navy?
WEINER: Take a hike! Take a hike!
HECKLER: You don’t show respect for the people.
WEINER: You are yelling at me. If you want to have a conversation with me, I am prepared to do it.
HECKLER: We deserve a mayor who had the judgment to vote against a war based on a lie.
HECKLER: Yeah, well —
WEINER: You really think I am going to be bullied by you yelling at the top of your lungs here? You think I would really stand for mayor if one person yelling is going to bully me? It’s not going to happen. I want to meet citizens. If you want to yell at the top of your lungs, keep doing it. I’m not going to be bullied by people like you, now or when I become mayor. If you want to have a conversation, I respect you enough to have a conversation. But yelling at the top of your lungs is not the New York way. We don’t roll like that.
Weiner’s “You’re acting like a bozo!’’ is almost a direct reference to Koch’s “Wackos!’’ epithet, which he gleefully wielded with great effect. Gleefully, but selectively. Koch battled on the streets but was all business in debates; one wonders if Weiner can be so disciplined when he faces his less charismatic rivals later in the summer. In the meantime, he should invite the heckler back, and try to reenact their exchange for a campaign ad.