Rep. Anthony Weiner unleashed his Brooklyn bravado in the revered halls of Congress this week, lacing into Republicans in a frenetic tirade that cemented the salamander-svelte-pol as a Beltway cobra.
The venomous spectacle — part Hollywood, part Homecrest, all YouTube — caused veins to pop from the neck of Weiner, who gesticulated, scowled and slammed an angry finger on a lectern during a debate over a bill that would have provided billions of dollars of aid to responders sickened by World Trade Center dust.
The tirade occurred late on Thursday night, after Rep. Jerry Nadler (D–Coney Island) yielded one minute “to the distinguished gentleman from New York,” who then launched into anything-but-distinguished behavior.
Weiner, the failed bill’s co-sponsor, raced to the well of the Congress and lashed into his Republican colleagues for not backing the bill because Democrats wanted to pass it in an expedited process that did not allow amendments that could slow everthing down.
Weiner’s off-camera target was Rep. Peter King (R-Long Island), who co-sponsored the bill, but not the expedited process by which Democrats brought it to the floor.
“Great courage!” Weiner began, sarcastically. “Great courage to wait until all members have already spoken and then stand up and wrap your arms around procedure. We see it in the United States Senate every single day, where members say we want amendments, we want debate, we want amendments — but we’re still a ‘no.’ ”
Then the Sheepshead Bay Democrat upped the sarcasm even more, mincing and pantomiming the hemming and hawing of a lawmaker in conflict: “And then we stand up and say, ‘Oh if only we had a different process we’d vote yes.’ You vote ‘yes’ if you believe ‘yes’! … If you believe it’s the wrong thing, you vote ‘no’!”
The pinnacle came when Weiner shouted down King, who apparently tried to interrupt the tirade.
“I will not yield to the gentleman! And the gentleman will observe regular order! The gentleman will observe regular order! Gentleman thinks that if he gets up and yells he’s going to intimidate people into believing he is right. He is wrong! The gentleman is wrong! The gentleman is providing cover for his colleagues rather than doing the right thing!”
Thousands saw the late-night debate live. Millions have seen it since, as it has electrified the airwaves and the Web.
Meanwhile, back home, Weiner’s constituents had mixed feelings about their representative’s over-the-top behavior.
“He should have kept his cool,” said a Midwood resident who would only give the name Mary B. “I have a quick temper — but he’s supposed to be professional, right?”
But Gravesend’s Jay Cole saw things differently. “It was a little over the top, but that’s politics — sometimes you have to yell.”
Histrionics are certainly nothing new for Weiner, who this month married glamorous gal-pal Huma Abedin.
During the debate over health care reform, he ripped into Rep. Scott Garrett (R–N.J.) for reading from a fake Democratic memo. And he is known as one of the louder arguers in Congress, where courtesy and decorum typically rule, even during the most contentious debates.
A former Weiner employee said the lawmaker has a reputation for being passionate — not that there’s anything wrong with that.
“His personality comes across as animated,” the person said. “He has that Brooklyn ability to know how to argue and how to argue effectively. This can be a strength, but sometimes, it can not work out so well.”
Political strategist and consultant Ethan Geto said he was bowled over by Weiner’s performance.
“He displayed righteous anger built up by non-stop partisan Republican obstructionism,” said Geto, who said he’s never worked for Weiner. “Showing passion and emotion in what is literally a life and death issue is OK by me. The guy really says what’s on his mind.”
Four days later, Weiner told us that he was still angry at the Republicans — and proud of a rant that was more Al Pacino in “And Justice for All” than a “gentleman from New York.”
“When you are angry, you express your anger,” Weiner said, still arguing that King should have done more to rally his caucus behind the measure, regardless of the process.
“I spoke on the floor previously that night, and I was calm,” Weiner explained. “But then [King] waited until the debate was over and launched into a broadside against me and my colleagues that made this political rather than unifying.
“It was really Peter King who wasn’t very honorable in all of this. This was a low point for Peter,” he claimed.
Former Bensonhurst state Sen. Seymour Lachman, who directs a center on government reform at Wagner College, said he felt Weiner’s rage was “genuine,” but he couldn’t divorce it from the understandable need to grandstand during an election year.
“In [government], you see issues that create events such as this during elections,” said Lachman, the author of “Three Men in A Room,” an insider’s look at the state legislative process.
But the Park Slope piranha insisted that the speech was not about mere showmanship.
“If people think this was a calculation, they’d be wrong,” he said.
Perhaps it was just Weiner’s old-school Brooklyn roots showing.
The 45-year-old lawmaker grew up in Park Slope, on Sixth Street near Prospect Park, the son of lawyer Mort Weiner, and Midwood HS teacher Fran Weiner. When he’s not shouting down colleagues, Weiner loves to tell a story of how he cut his political teeth in Miss Noonan’s third-grade class at PS 39 on Sixth Avenue between Seventh and Eighth streets.
It was class election season and Weiner ran for vice president. Passionate even then, the budding pol gave a stirring speech about how the school cafeteria served fishsticks too often.
“I thought I did an excellent job” on the speech, he told the New York Sun in 2005 — but he ended up losing to his challenger — who upped the young Weiner by handing out lollipops to the whole class.
Flash forward 40 years and Weiner is still fighting. But yelling, “Shame, shame” — isn’t such talk itself a bit of a “shonda,” as Jews call it?
Maybe, according to Rabbi Shimon Hecht of Congregation B’nai Jacob on Ninth Street in Park Slope — near where Weiner grew up.
“According to Torah law, we are not permitted to get angry,” Hecht explained. “The one who gets angry is considered an idol worshipper.” A way around this, he advised, is to “put on a show, as if you’re angry,” while inside remaining as temperate as a panda.
Hecht said a radio broadcast of Weiner’s shrill, 1:42-minute rant woke him up Friday morning. “I don’t have a problem with it,” the rabbi said. “He didn’t curse anyone. Maybe it was a drop overboard, but I don’t think this was a personal attack.”
Down in Brighton Beach, 89-year-old Sylvia Fields offered some sage advise.
“You’ll catch more bees with honey,” she said. “He shouldn’t yell.”
Fields struggled to explain her congressman’s rant.
“Maybe he should have married a nice Jewish girl,” she offered.
— with Ben Kochman