There was one question Anthony Weiner didn't want to answer — maybe couldn't answer — in his final moments as a contender for mayor of New York City, the only job he's ever wanted: "What's your plan for tomorrow?"
That's what Shimon Prokupecz, a reporter for WNBC-TV, hollered at Weiner as he came bounding from Connolly's Pub & Restaurant, the site of his emotional concession speech, across the sidewalk and into a car idling on 47th Street. But Prokupecz didn't get his answer. Weiner jumped inside, rolled up the window, and flashed his middle finger instead before speeding away.
"He looked straight at me in the eye," Prokupecz said later.
After a dead-last finish in the mayoral primary — even a candidate tangled in a criminal fundraising investigation managed more votes — the question of Weiner's plan for tomorrow hung heavy on the former candidate.
In his concession speech, delivered to a rowdy crowd of supporters and volunteers, Weiner vowed to stay the course, whatever course that is.
"The reason we never quit is because all over New York, families have been knocked down again and again, and each and every time they get up," he said. "This is why this campaign will never quit. Because those New Yorkers never quit. And I will never stop, and nor will you, I hope, stop fighting for the middle class and those struggling to make it."
But what does life look like Wednesday morning for Weiner? For a guy who has campaigned for more than half his life toward becoming mayor; who never truly stopped running when he lost the first time in 2005; who spent his years in Washington shirking committee duties and fundraising dues to fly home for town halls in Queens or graduation ceremonies in Brooklyn; who, as Robert Draper put it in his book on Congress, "only wanted one thing, really," and that was to become mayor of New York City?
After resigning from Congress two years ago, Weiner stayed at home, looked after his toddler son, and did some consulting work — but mostly he readied his next mayoral campaign. Dating back to his college years at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, where he was voted "most effective student senator" after staging sit-ins and protests, Weiner has shaped his life around public office with near obsessive focus — so much so that in a Monday night interview on MSNBC, Lawrence O'Donnell asked Weiner the same question, over and over again, for six straight minutes of primetime television: "What is wrong with you that you cannot seem to imagine a life without elected office?"
Earlier this summer, Weiner came close to redemption — and maybe even winning the mayoral race — but after a second scandal broke in late July, he limped on toward primary day as his poll numbers plummeted. Standing alone on the stage Tuesday night, with just 4.9% of the vote, Weiner gave what felt like a final concession, despite his vague promise to "never quit."
During his last hours on the campaign trail, when poll numbers showed him in a distant fourth place, Weiner's disappointment was evident even as he attempted to project an air of optimism, making somewhat halfhearted use of the future tense — a reference to "when I'm mayor," or a call to "vote for me in the general, thank you!" For his last meet and greet with voters, Weiner returned to what he called his "good-luck corner," a Harlem subway stop at the intersection of 125th and Lenox Avenue, where he has kicked off and wrapped up his past mayoral bids.
"This was the last stop I did in 2005, the first stop I did in 2013, the last stop I did in the primary in 2013, and I plan for it to be the last stop I do in the general," he told the four reporters still bothering to cover his moribund campaign.
While Bill de Blasio, who won the Democratic nomination Tuesday night, spent the days leading up to the primary telling reporters he cautiously expected a runoff election, Weiner played up his confidence, at times to the point of delusion.
"Prospects are looking great," he said Tuesday morning, echoing an equally assured interview he gave to NBC News over the weekend, when he told Savannah Guthrie his chances of winning were "good." When asked in Harlem whether he could make a comeback before polls closed that night, Weiner dismissed the premise of the question altogether. "I'm not sure I need to make a big comeback. I just feel like I've got to win," he said.
Weiner, of course, couldn't say he was going to lose, for just the same reasons John Liu or Sal Albanese, two other low-polling candidates, couldn't. The campaigns had staffers and volunteers, donors and community organizers, all invested in their efforts. As Weiner put it, "The Jets didn't walk off the field when they were down — people play the game."
But unlike the other mayoral hopefuls who came up short, Weiner's false confidence barely masked a sharply felt anxiety about the future.
Weiner, who has invested so much of his career in running for mayor, seemed to acknowledge the blow his campaign's loss might deliver to him personally. Twice, unprompted, Weiner volunteered that he was not "depressed" by primary day, as if to assure he'd make it past Tuesday unscathed.
"Election Day's a fundamentally very optimistic day," he said at the subway stop. "People are talking about their forward-looking aspirations, so it's hard to be depressed on Election Day." Later that night, when he thanked campaign volunteers in his concession speech, he affirmed his good spirits again. "It is impossible to be depressed, to get down, or to even think about quitting," he said, "when you see so many people working so hard based on their beliefs."
But his last day on the campaign trail, marked by a series of painful, circus-like missteps, seemed a final coda to his failed comeback bid, and possibly to his hope for a career in public office.
When a complication with his voter registration would have required him to cast his ballot by paper affidavit — and not inside the voting booth — Weiner asked the Board of Elections to intervene so that he could have his Election Day photo op. "We'd have voted by paper ballot," Weiner said, "but the association of still photographers says that would be violating the rules of Election Day photo ops."
When Sydney Leathers, the Indiana woman Weiner courted online for months, appeared outside his campaign headquarters during a scheduled stop there, staffers hurried to move the event to far-away southeast Queens.
And when Leathers waited outside Connolly's Pub later that night, the campaign plotted with a McDonald's cashier next door to get Weiner into the bar by way of a back stairwell shared by both venues. Shortly after 10:30 p.m., the candidate's car pulled up to 47th Street, and Weiner dashed without warning into the fast-food restaurant. Reporters, joined by Leathers, sprinted after Weiner, but staffers blocked the group from advancing further.
Two minutes later, the candidate was on stage, chanting "New York, New York!"
"All that to avoid a 23-year-old," Leathers said in frustration. She flew all the way to New York from Indiana to "confront" Weiner, but instead spent the night posing outside Connolly's for news photographers who called out to her like a model on the catwalk.
"I need a full-length!"
"This way, Sydney!"
"Hey, Sydney, right at me now! Lovely."
Leathers, for her part, said she thought her former texting partner should "focus on getting some sex therapy and maybe not running for any public office," she said. His next career, she suggested again, should be "anything out of public office."
Inside the bar, on a stage on the second floor, Weiner was well on his way out of that line of work — though toward what remained unclear.
Without direct mention of his son, Jordan, or his wife, Huma Abedin, both of whom appeared to be absent from the event, Weiner suggested his personal failings had let the campaign down. "There's no doubt about it, we had the best ideas," he said. "Sadly, I was an imperfect messenger."
"All of us, wherever we came from, want to leave a city a little bit better than the one we found," he said, his eyes welling up as he closed the concession speech at what was billed to supporters as a "victory party." "If you keep fighting, I'm gonna keep fighting."
The onetime candidate descended, the crowd cheered, and the speakers blasted Journey's "Don't Stop Believing." Weiner's mother, Fran, a public schoolteacher and a mainstay in her son's campaign ads this year, was seated against the wall, watching him work the crowd.
"So it's over," she said, turning away from her son and toward the man seated next to her. "We'll have to see what happens now."