NEW YORK (AP) — Nearly three weeks after Rep. Anthony Weiner accidentally tweeted a photo of his bulging crotch, his final act as congressman was to attempt to resign with dignity.
He had gone from the halls of Congress to the front pages of the New York tabloids, providing ceaseless fodder as cringe-worthy evidence of his sexually charged online dalliances leaked out and top Democrats pushed for his resignation.
On Thursday afternoon, the 46-year-old struck a sober tone at the podium of the senior center in Brooklyn where he launched a campaign for City Council in 1992. He stood alone; his pregnant wife, Huma Abedin, remained at home while he officially ended the only career he has ever known.
But like other developments in the tawdry drama, the press conference was marked by profanity and low-brow antics. After recounting the beginning of his political career and proclaiming that there is “no higher honor” than to represent one’s neighbors, he said he initially hoped to continue his work but then realized “the distraction that I have created has made that impossible.” With that, he apologized and resigned.
The seniors, many of them former supporters, groaned. Some in the room cheered. One man yelled out:
Another jumped up seconds later and began to shout questions about the congressman’s genitals. The din in the room reached a crescendo as dozens of cameras pivoted, reporters gasped and some of the seniors shouted for the man to sit down. Weiner grew slightly flushed but continued speaking. A police officer approached and told him to quiet down for the remainder of Weiner’s remarks, which lasted just under four minutes. As the congressman left the podium, the loud heckler bellowed: “Will you maintain your hot physique and your smooth sexy chest?”
The circus-like distraction had overshadowed the main event, a fitting metaphor for the congressman’s career. The man behind it turned out to be a writer for the Howard Stern Show named Benjy Bronk.
Many of the spectators said the episode was a startling finale for a once-promising hometown politician.
“It was pathetic and sad,” said online publisher Binyamin Jolkovsky, 42. “A guy built a career, made it three-fourths of the way up the hill and then it all collapses.”
Known as brash, liberal and ambitious, the seven-term congressman had run for mayor of New York in 2005 and had been expected to do so again. He had raised $4 million in campaign funds so far. Congress.
On Thursday, he hinted that he would stay involved in public life in some capacity.
“I got into politics to help give voice to the many that simply did not have one,” he said. “Now I’ll be looking for other ways to contribute my talents to make sure we live up to that most New York and American of ideals.”
He did not take questions.
Democratic Party leaders, concerned that Weiner could weigh the party down in the 2012 elections, had welcomed the announcement after days spent trying to coax, push and finally coerce the wayward politician into quitting.
“Congressman Weiner exercised poor judgment in his actions and poor judgment in his reaction to the revelations,” House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement released moments after he spoke. “Today, he made the right judgment in resigning.”
He did not explain his presence in New York, several days after issuing a statement that said he was seeking treatment. Other Democrats said he had left the city to do so.
Weiner’s departure marks the end of a bizarre period born of the New Yorker’s use of social media such as Twitter and Facebook.
His problems began on May 28 when a website run by conservative commentator Andrew Breitbart posted a lewd photograph of an underwear-clad crotch and said it had been sent from Weiner’s Twitter account to a Seattle woman.
And as the scandalous chapter neared its conclusion, a former pornography actress who exchanged emails and messages over Twitter with him said Wednesday at a news conference he had asked her to lie about their interactions.
Ginger Lee said she and Weiner exchanged about 100 emails between March and June after Lee posted a supportive statement about the congressman on her blog. He then contacted her on Twitter, Lee said. They mostly discussed politics, but he would often turn the conversation to sex, she said.
“‘I have wardrobe demands, too. I need to highlight my package,’” Weiner wrote Lee, in an email read aloud at the news conference by Lee’s attorney.
Weiner’s initial reaction after the first photo became public more than two weeks ago was to lie, and he did so repeatedly, saying his Twitter account had been hacked.
But he pointedly did not report the incident to law enforcement — a step that could have opened him to charges of far more serious wrongdoing.
Nor were his public denials persuasive, especially when he told one interviewer he could not “say with certitude” that he wasn’t the faceless man in the underwear photo.
His eventual confession triggered a tabloid-style frenzy in print and online that only grew more pronounced a few days later when an X-rated photo surfaced on a website.
After initially calling for a House ethics investigation, Pelosi ramped up the pressure on Saturday when she joined with Rep. Steve Israel of New York and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, leader of the Democratic National Committee, in calling on Weiner to step down.
President Barack Obama added to the pressure two days later, saying if he were in Weiner’s situation, he would resign. Once Weiner did so, Obama told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that “I wish Rep. Weiner and his lovely wife well. This obviously has been a tough incident for him but I’m confident that they’ll refocus and he’ll refocus and they’ll end up being able to bounce back.”
On Wednesday, Democrats let it be known the party’s leadership in the House would be meeting within 24 hours to consider sanctions against Weiner, including possibly stripping him of his committee assignment.
Weiner was said to have telephoned Pelosi and Israel, the head of the party campaign committee, as they attended a White House picnic on Wednesday evening to tell them of his plans to quit.
Several officials have said in recent days that Weiner was reluctant to make any decision about his career without speaking with his wife, a top aide to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who had been overseas since shortly after the scandal broke. The trip ended Tuesday night.
Weiner’s outspoken, in-your-face style cheered liberal supporters and angered conservatives. He even irritated some party leaders in 2009 when he led the charge for a government-run health care system long after the White House had made it clear that Obama was opposed.
Weiner’s district includes parts of Queens and Brooklyn. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has the authority to call a special election to fill the seat once the congressman submits his resignation.