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Weiner’s Future Bright

By withdrawing from the New York City mayoral race Wednesday instead of proceeding to a Democratic runoff with frontrunner Fernando Ferrer, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) has enhanced his political future, several observers said.

Just hours after finishing second to Ferrer in Tuesday’s Democratic mayoral primary — and ebulliently claiming partial victory at a raucous celebration in a midtown Manhattan restaurant — Weiner stood in front of his parents’ home in Brooklyn and said he was dropping out in the interest of party unity.

“We must start getting behind Freddy Ferrer right away if we are to beat a Republican like Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg,” he said.

Kudos from party leaders came swiftly.

Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), who backed Ferrer in the primary but who represents an adjoining portion of Queens in Congress, said Weiner’s early call for party unity will be meaningful — and comes as a relief to fellow Democratic officeholders who were girding for a runoff that could have become as bitter as the one between Ferrer and Mark Green in 2001.

“He’s in a position where he can bump Ferrer in a positive way, and it won’t be forgotten four years from now or whenever,” Crowley said. “It was a political stroke of genius.”

Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), the senior Member of New York’s Congressional delegation, called Weiner’s decision to bow out “a very courageous thing to do,” at a time when Democrats will need to avoid infighting and unnecessary campaign spending to defeat the billionaire mayor in November.

“We have a Democratic city. We should have a Democratic mayor,” Rangel said. “Instead of talking about four candidates, we can talk about the Democratic candidate.”

Weiner’s announcement may have seemed abrupt — he began Wednesday morning appearing on several local TV stations and thanking voters at a Harlem subway station.

Anson Kaye, a spokesman for Weiner, said the Congressman was not swayed by entreaties from party bosses to drop out, because none was forthcoming.

“It was a decision that he made and he made alone,” Kaye said. “He slept on it and he thought about it [Wednesday] morning.”

Rep. Elliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the highest-ranking official to endorse Weiner, said he wasn’t altogether surprised at the turn of events, even though Weiner had expressed confidence that he could win the runoff as the two watched the election returns together Tuesday evening.

As Ferrer’s vote hovered around 40 percent — the threshold for avoiding a runoff — Engel said Weiner was worrying about what a head-to-head contest would do for Democrats’ prospects of retaking City Hall, even as he was reveling in his success. As it happened, Ferrer finished with 39.95 percent in the unofficial results. Weiner won 29 percent.

“It’s one thing if the lead guy gets 36 percent, it’s another thing if the guy gets 39.945 percent,” Engel said.

Weiner’s decision may have been a bow to several political realities, made with an eye toward his own political future.

First, it wasn’t even clear there was going to be a runoff on Sept. 27. An official tally and a count of absentee and emergency ballots could have taken a week to complete, and if Ferrer had pushed past 40 percent, he would have been declared the Democratic nominee.

(Ironically, the executive director of the New York City Board of Elections told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the count will continue despite Weiner’s announcement and that a runoff will be held if Ferrer falls short of 40 percent, even if Weiner doesn’t actively campaign.)

Moreover, two polls released just before the primary showed Weiner trailing Ferrer by double digits in a head-to-head contest. Ferrer already had far more support than Weiner from party leaders and key interest groups, and he was sure to expand on that advantage in a runoff.

The other two vanquished Democratic primary candidates — Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields and City Council Speaker Gifford Miller — would probably have been expected to endorse Ferrer in the runoff as well.

And finally, there is some question about how much of a prize the Democratic nomination will be, despite the party’s 5-1 edge in voter enrollment in the city. Bloomberg has been riding high in the polls and is expected to spend tens of millions of dollars from his own pocket on his re-election, just as he did in his first race four years ago.

Bloomberg also is enjoying support from key Democratic constituencies and is employing a raft of Democratic operatives, many of them affiliated with Weiner’s mentor, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), whose wife is Bloomberg’s transportation commissioner.

As if to buttress that point, Bloomberg sought to steal some of the Democrats’ thunder Wednesday with a “Democrats for Bloomberg” rally on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, one of the most liberal precincts in the city. At the event, the mayor announced that former Gov. Hugh Carey (D), former Queens Borough President Claire Schulman (D), publisher Earl Graves Sr., Roger Altman, the deputy Treasury secretary under President Bill Clinton and financier Felix Rohatyn, would be among those heading the effort.

Given all those factors, it may have made political sense for Weiner, who is only 41, to aid Ferrer in his bid to make history by becoming New York’s first Latino mayor.

“Obviously, [Weiner’s] stock has risen in New York City politics,” Crowley said.

If Ferrer beats Bloomberg, Weiner will have played a big role; if Bloomberg wins, he is term limited in 2009 and Weiner will automatically be among the Democratic frontrunners to replace him.

“For Weiner, it means he lives to fight another day,” said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “He’s a party uniter, not a party divider.”

Still, Weiner could be plagued by second thoughts.

In New York history, there have been two Democratic mayoral runoffs between a white candidate and a Latino candidate, and each time, the white candidate won.

Although Ferrer had a solid lead over Weiner in the polls, he is a much better-known quantity, whereas Weiner had room to grow. Of the four major Democratic candidates for mayor, only Weiner made significant gains in the polls in the campaign’s final weeks.

“He ran a good, peppy campaign,” Carroll said. “He ran a peppier campaign than any of the other three.”

And despite Bloomberg’s obvious advantage in current polls, some Democratic strategists saw Weiner as the strongest potential contender in the general election because he could have cut into some of Bloomberg’s pockets of strength in the boroughs outside Manhattan.

“This is September — we’re talking November,” Carroll said. “Anything can happen.”

But Kaye said Weiner is not thinking about his political future at this point.

“The first order of business for him is trying to help Fernando Ferrer get elected mayor of New York City,” he said.

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