Acclaimed memoirist Binyavanga Wainaina talks about his writing, Africa today and his new life as an openly gay man.
Anthony Weiner’s campaign for mayor of New York continues, despite being marred by scandal.
Will New Yorkers forgive him, or do other candidates running for mayor stand to benefit from his woes?
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
It's HERE AND NOW. There are 36 days left until New York City's mayoral primary, and so far the main issue in the race seems to be will Anthony Weiner stay in or get out. Weiner was leading his Democratic rivals before it was revealed that he continued sexting with women, even after he was forced to resign from Congress back in 2011. He has now slipped to fourth place in the polls.
Errol Louis is the host of "Road to City Hall" on NY1, and he joins me now from the NPR studios in New York to discuss. Hi, Errol.
ERROL LOUIS: Glad to be with you.
HOBSON: So is Anthony Weiner's campaign over? You interviewed him on Friday. What did he have to say?
LOUIS: Well, it's never over. He certainly didn't make it sound as if he was going anywhere anytime soon. I interviewed him at his campaign office, which was bustling with young people who were answering phones and doing all the things you do during a campaign. Anthony Weiner has decided, and he has said this often, that he's going to cast his lot with the voters, that he will let the voters decide whether or not he is fit to be a candidate, whether he is fit to be mayor, whether he is plausible, whether he is viable. All of those questions that we pundits and the editorial boards have been asking for weeks, he says you know what, you guys don't get to decide. We're going to let the voters do it.
HOBSON: But what about money? Does he have enough money to continue?
LOUIS: Well, yes, he does, actually. In fact, there's one theory that goes that the money is the main thing that drew him back into politics. He, under New York's somewhat convoluted rules, we have a very generous campaign finance system under which every dollar raised, if you raise small amounts from lots of people, will be matched six to one.
So he had already contemplated running four years ago. That money is still available to him. The match is probably also available to him. He's also raised some additional money, and so he's got somewhere in the range of about $5 million. He's near the top of the pack, actually, when it comes to money available to be spent in the closing weeks of this campaign.
HOBSON: Well, you asked him in your interview if he had betrayed his obligation to be transparent to New York voters. Let's listen to what he had to say.
ANTHONY WEINER: And I guess the question becomes, well, what was my obligation. Was it to say, all right, this person and that person, and this was the time, and this was the date, and say I'm going to decide I'm going to out everyone who was involved in these conversations with me, whether it's good for them, bad for them or indifferent.
And I said I wasn't going to do that. So to some degree this notion that I haven't been completely transparent, yes, I haven't let people into every last embarrassing thing that I did, but I gave them a pretty good summary.
HOBSON: So he's being pretty defiant. He's sticking with this.
LOUIS: Oh yeah, absolutely. In fact, you know, if you think about that statement, you know, in some ways it's kind of outrageous, you know, the notion that he owes more to these women that he was sexting to and texting to than he would, say, to the voters of New York City.
And the question on the table that I was actually asking him to answer was what was the actual timeline. I mean, he has painted this narrative of himself as having wronged his wife, reconciled with her, and then, you know, sort of despite the embarrassment come back into politics.
But the timeline of when that actually happened really doesn't quite track with what we now know about his activities with this woman, Sydney Leathers, going all the way up until, frankly, April of this year.
LOUIS: So at the very same time that he was taking pictures in People magazine and saying he's reconciled with his wife, he was at the very same time...
HOBSON: He's still sending pictures out over the phone, yeah.
LOUIS: Yeah, sure, sure, sure. And so, you know, I mean people understandably wanted to be clear on it. At some point you just have to leave it alone because that clip that you just played is pretty much what his standard answer is, which is that I'm not going to tell you any more, I'm not going to be precise, I'm not going to even tell you exactly how many women this went on with or the dates on which it began and ended.
And you know, he's again trusting the voters with this, but what the pollsters are saying is that the voters don't much like that approach, because he went from being in first place in the polls to being in fourth place.
HOBSON: And yet at a forum in Queens last week, Republican mayoral candidate George McDonald called Weiner a self-pleasuring freak. But the audience, largely African-American, was not happy about that at all. They booed him. So he does have some support.
LOUIS: Oh sure, in fact every time one of his rivals tries to bring this up, it's the person who brings it up who gets booed, not Anthony Weiner. And I think that reflects an understandable frustration among the electorate that too many important issues are not getting talked about because we are trying to sort of nail down the wheres and the whens and the whos and the how manys in the Anthony Weiner case.
Now, should it be, say, George McDonald who gets blamed for that, or should it be Anthony Weiner, who has refused to be precise about these things, I guess is an open question. But in the very short time allocated for these mayoral debates, folks really just want to talk about schools, public safety, health care and those kind of things.
HOBSON: And I want to get to that in a second, but I do want to just follow up on this with a question about Christine Quinn, who is, it seems now, again the frontrunner in the race. She is the speaker of the city council, and her she is talking to Current TV host Joy Behar.
CHRISTINE QUINN: Now it's up to the voters, and I think they're going to make it abundantly clear, come September 10th, the Democratic primary, that he's not going to be the mayor. And look, part of why they're going to make that clear is because he has a pattern of reckless behavior and a real challenge with the truth.
And they need a mayor, New Yorkers need a mayor who's responsible and mature.
HOBSON: Now, is Christine Quinn gaining popularity among the voters post-Weiner?
LOUIS: Well, she did pick up some points, but the percentage gain was really notably pitched to another candidate, Bill de Blasio. I mean Christine Quinn maybe stopped a rather alarming decline, from her point of view, because Anthony Weiner came into the race and basically passed her in the polls, but she didn't pick up the 10 points that he suddenly dropped.
She picked up a couple of points. Bill de Blasio, this other candidate, picked up a number of points, and so she certainly benefits, but this is by no means a done deal.
HOBSON: And Michael Bloomberg, the current mayor, who's been mayor now since 2002, is not endorsing anybody yet. Who is most likely to get his endorsement, and is he likely to give one?
LOUIS: That's an interesting, interesting question. He has said, the mayor has said, that he already knows who he's going to support, but he's not going to tell us just yet. There are some polls that show that in the Democratic primary, which is the race that really counts here, that an endorsement by Mayor Bloomberg will turn off half and maybe slightly more than half of Democratic primary voters.
So, you know, if Mayor Bloomberg wanted to support Christine Quinn or anybody else, it's very possible that the best way to do that would be to not give them an open endorsement but to maybe pull some strings or suggest, you know, indirectly or informally to certain groups that he would be OK with her as mayor.
HOBSON: Errol Louis, if this Anthony Weiner scandal were not going on, what would the top issues be for New Yorkers this election cycle?
LOUIS: That's a very, very good question. I think the schools are a perennial. It's very important. It's the largest school system in the country, 1.1 million kids. It has recently been discovered or determined that something on the order of three-quarters of the kids graduating from New York City public high schools are not ready for college and have to do remedial work before they can attend even our local public colleges. So education will be huge.
Affordability, which in New York City almost always means housing, is a huge, huge issue. We've got housing prices that are just through the roof in a city where upwards of 20 percent of the city is living in poverty. New York City has both the wealthiest and by income terms the poorest congressional district in the country, and they are about three miles apart from each other.
The Upper East Side has all of the wealth, and the South Bronx, just desperately poor. These issues have been put off for a long, long time, and my sense of the campaign, and I've moderated at this point 11 different mayoral debates with more to come, my sense of it is that the public really does want these issues talked about and addressed, and that would be the main issue if we didn't have all these other distractions.
HOBSON: Errol Louis is host of "Road to City Hall" on NY1. Errol Louis, thank you so much.
LOUIS: Thank you.
HOBSON: And the latest news is coming up next, HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.