Earlier this week, Salon’s Steve Kornacki reminded us of the tawdry tale that started Anthony Weiner’s political career as context for the one that’s likely to end it. As the underdog in a three-way race for City Council, Weiner launched an anonymous race-baiting smear campaign against one of his opponents, Adele Cohen, whose political career was temporarily derailed by Weiner before serving for a decade in the state Assembly. Today Kornacki caught up with Cohen, who laments that Weiner ended up wasting his opportunity:
This morning, I spoke with the victim of that attack, Adele Cohen, who was depicted in the Weiner flier as being a puppet of Jesse Jackson and David Dinkins. The Jackson/Dinkins linkage was particularly devastating to Cohen’s campaign because the September ’91 primary played out days after the infamous Crown Heights riot in an overwhelmingly white district just a few miles away. Cohen ended up losing to Weiner, who admitted the flier was his only after the ballots were counted, by 195 votes.
“It’s been 20 years,” she told me, “and for the first year I was really upset — I mean upset. And then, you know, 19 years, I calmed down. But now it’s all up there in my face again, and I’m distressed, personally. He had an opportunity to do something good for people, and he really messed it up.”
That’s not to say that Cohen has any desire to see Weiner stick around Congress, though she does have a warning for anyone thinking about running against him:
“I think he should hold his head in shame and resign and go off into a corner,” she said. “I think what he did is so disgraceful. He brought disgrace on himself and his family and his constituents. But if he runs again, he’ll win. Because the most familiar name wins, and his name is only becoming more familiar. And he’ll put out whatever kind of stuff it’ll take to get him to win. Whoever runs against him: Beware. You have to be an angel.”
Well, the concept of shame might be a bit foreign to anyone who would run an anonymous smear campaign just to win a City Council seat — and perhaps to constituents who rewarded him with higher office after finding out about it. At least Cohen is not sitting quietly the way other Democratic women in politics seem to be doing, according to the Associated Press:
The scandal presents a maddening choice for these female leaders, none shy, between speaking out or keeping quiet about behavior that, at best, is disrespectful of women.
“You’re right, I don’t like” questions about Weiner, Sen. Dianne Feinstein said with a smile.
Feinstein, D-Calif., was elected in 1992, known as “the Year of the Woman.” She said she’s shocked and saddened by the matter, which grew worse as the week went on, and she wished she could say something lighthearted about it.
Does she think Weiner should resign? “I’m not getting into that,” she demurred.
It was an apt illustration of the bind in which female lawmakers, particularly Democrats, find themselves as Weiner’s tawdry saga unfolds. They represent a party trying to position itself as the best choice for women in the lead-up to the 2012 congressional and presidential elections, yet the most senior among them have not called outright for Weiner’s resignation.
Most, in fact, have said nothing publicly at all.
Cohen has retired to private practice, so she doesn’t represent an anomaly in this matter. Neither does former Congresswoman Pat Schroeder, who went on the record with National Journal in an entertaining interview about the “frat boy” culture of the Beltway:
NJ What’s your reaction to the Anthony Weiner revelations?
SCHROEDER I want to look for a barf bag. Oh, no, not again! I’m so old, I’ve seen this happen over and over again. You keep thinking, excuse me, haven’t they figured out that they’re not going to get away with that stuff? What drives them to do it? What in the world is going on?
NJ Is there something about men in powerful positions that leads them to this kind of behavior?
SCHROEDER I really don’t know. That would be practicing psychiatry without a license. But you certainly see an awful lot of it. I don’t want to unfairly paint them all with this bad brush. But it is amazing to me, because I know that when I was there, I couldn’t figure out when I was going to launder my nylons, I was so busy. So, when they’ve got time to do all this stuff is way beyond me.
NJ What was the atmosphere like for you as a peer of these men? Do you think it has changed at all?
SCHROEDER It doesn’t sound like it has changed much. I will never forget one afternoon on the floor, a group of congresswomen were all standing around and talking about how we didn’t know this stuff was going on. There was some lobbyist who had this house on the Hill, where there were girls and liquor and all this stuff. The guys would all go there and then just show up for votes. And we were all saying we didn’t even know this was happening. The guys came over and just said, “Well, you’re out of it; you don’t know anything; you don’t understand.”
When asked about whether Weiner and John Edwards taint the Democratic Party, Schroeder fairly points out that Arnold Schwarzenegger taints the GOP, too — and one can add John Ensign, Chris Lee, and Larry Craig to that list as well. It’s less a partisan issue than a gender issue, Schroeder insists. I’d call it more of a power issue than anything else, as well as a severe lack of judgment, but we don’t see too many of these scandals involving women in Congress, either.
Finally, the biggest frat boy in recent Washington history is apparently frustrated at Weiner’s refusal to, er, follow the advice that the adviser refused to take when it counted as well:
While embattled Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner seems intent about staying in his job — and he’s been bolstered by a poll showing that a majority of his constituents say he shouldn’t resign — we can report that Democratic leaders, including former President Bill Clinton, are frustrated and some even furious at him. The reason: He isn’t doing his party any favors by staying in his job. The VERY few folks advising him to stay are the only folks he is listening to. Monday will be intense for him ,because the House is back and the Democratic caucus may speak as a group.
You mean the man who had sexual contact with at least one intern in the executive offices of the White House, then lied about it under oath, and then blamed conservatives while refusing to resign is now shocked, shocked! that Weiner won’t retreat into oblivion? That one gets a Captain Louis Renault award for Bill Clinton:
Update: Adele Cohen, not Alice Cohen as I wrote originally in the first graph. I’ve corrected it; thanks to Ed Driscoll.