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Weiner puts the brakes on his mayoral campaign

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Though U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) has raised millions for his mayoral campaign and has insisted for months that he is a contender in the 2009 race, the congressman sent a letter to supporters Wednesday stating he will not decide whether or not to run until late this spring.

Weiner, who has raised $6.6 million for the mayoral race, sought in the letter to assure donors and supporters that his relative silence in the campaign is nothing less than an attempt to mitigate national financial problems.

“Over the next months, the task of uplifting our nation and our city out of the worst economic turmoil in 70 years will be, and I hope you agree, should be my top priority,” Weiner wrote in his letter. “So you won’t see me holding campaign rallies. You won’t see me knocking on doors asking for votes.”

“At the beginning of the summer, when Congress takes a break, I will look at the lay of the land again and try to determine the best political course,” he added.

Weiner is a six-term congressman who represents the 9th Council District, which includes Forest Hills, Fresh Meadows, Glendale, Howard Beach, Kew Gardens, Kew Gardens Hills, Middle Village, Ozone Park, Rego Park, Rockaway Beach, and Woodhaven. The representative has consistently said in public that he plans to run for mayor, including last fall while speaking to a Forest Hills High School government class and at a Citizens Union breakfast in January.

There has been speculation that Weiner was not a serious contender, particularly when his would-be opponents Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Comptroller William Thompson hired campaign managers and set up Web sites and Weiner did not.

Democratic consultant George Arzt said he believes Weiner will bow out of the race. Arzt argued Weiner has little chance of winning against Bloomberg, a billionaire who could far outspend the congressman, and believes Weiner’s exit from the campaign would allow him to run a more successful campaign in four years.

“He wanted to gracefully get out of the mayoral race,” Arzt said. “He wanted to say he’s not being driven out of the race because he’s trailing in the polls, and he wanted to say he’s doing something important with the stimulus bill.”

The souring economy, Arzt said, has given Weiner an excuse to exit the campaign.

“He’s been getting a lot of questions about him running,” Arzt said. “He was getting more and more questions, and he wanted to end that.”

Arzt said he expects little political fallout if Weiner does leave the race, and the coverage Weiner has received could give him a name recognition boost should he decide to run for mayor in four years.

Co-president of the New Queens Democrats Ian Steinberg said in a previous interview with TimesLedger that he too expects Weiner to make another bid for mayor in four years.

A Quinnipiac poll released in late February had Bloomberg defeating Weiner by 48 to 36 percent. In the poll, Bloomberg defeats Thompson 50 to 33 percent. Fifty-five percent of those polled said they do not know enough about Weiner.

Weiner, however, insists that his lack of campaigning is not synonymous with dropping out of the race.

“I’m confident in my strategy and timetable for deciding in part because I’ve been through it before,” Weiner wrote in Wednesday’s letter. “In 2005, pundits and strategists said I spent too much time talking about policy ideas, too much time doing my job in Congress, not enough time campaigning, and that I lacked too many important insider endorsements. Frankly, I wore those criticisms with pride. I still do.”

“In the last mayoral election, we did not announce our campaign for mayor until Aug. 3,” Weiner added.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e−mail at agustafson@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 174.

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