Mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner wooed Harlem voters at a meet-and-greet event on Wednesday, speaking about his platform and gentrification in the neighborhood, which he has frequented on the campaign trail.
Weiner, a former Congressman, discussed how Harlem had changed at a get-together in the Renaissance Fine Art gallery on Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard between 123rd and 124th streets.
“If you stood here 20 or 30 years ago, you would be amazed at what a transformation has happened,” Weiner said. “A remarkable rise in property values, building and investing going on, the types of restaurants and fine arts and all kinds of investments coming from all around the city and all around the world.”
“Harlem became hot,” he said.
Weiner has spent a lot of time on the campaign trail in Harlem—his first public appearance as a candidate was outside the subway stop on 125th Street and Malcolm X Boulevard.
While touting the neighborhood’s upswing, Weiner also noted the downsides of gentrification.
The way Harlem is changing “creates enormous challenges for this community for those in the middle class, for those struggling to make it into the middle class in Harlem,” he said. “We have an enormous amount of work to do in Harlem.”
Gentrification, Weiner noted, is hard to keep up with. "My wife and I were feeling very hip for a night," he said, describing a night that he got on the L train to go to an art show in Bushwick. "Back in the '70s if you wanted to get mugged and you wanted to expedite the process, you got on the L train."
"It's hipsters, it's guys in suits, it's people with bikes that are folded up into these little pods. It's amazing," he said. "But that art gallery we went to, the guy was telling me that he couldn't afford to live near where his show was."
Polls show that Weiner is the frontrunner for the Sept. 10 Democratic primary, especially among African-American voters. A Quinnipiac University poll released Monday put Weiner in first place with 25 percent of primary voters, to 22 percent for his closest rival, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. Among African-American voters, Weiner was up 31 percent to Quinn’s 16 percent.
The majority of the predominantly African-American crowd at the event seemed unfazed by the 2011 scandal that made Weiner famous, in which he resigned after lying about sending sexually explicit photos of himself to several women on Twitter and Facebook.
When asked about the scandal, many used the same line: “That’s a personal issue.” Morris Heights resident Darius Gordan said he thought it might even give Weiner an edge.
“He just seems like a wild card,” Gordan said. “I can’t really judge somebody for that. We all make mistakes.”
Clyde Williams, a former aide to President Bill Clinton who ran unsuccessfully for Congress against Charles Rangel last year, hosted the event and endorsed Weiner.
“There are a lot of things that people can say about Anthony,” Williams said. “Nobody can say that Anthony does not care about the city of New York. No one can say that Anthony will not work diligently for the people of New York City. No one can say that Anthony Weiner does not have good ideas.”
Attendees asked about education, housing, economic development, and stop and frisk, and Weiner spoke broadly about his vision for the city. He vowed to change the stop and frisk policy and to reform the education system, and he announced that he would unveil his housing plan in a speech on Thursday.
Weiner also called for “longer days, more diverse services in the schools, more nutritional services, [and] more healthcare services” in city schools in order to improve the education of impoverished students.
At one point he proposed giving students Amazon Kindles instead of expensive textbooks. He then looked to the crowd and asked if Kindle had shut down.
"Did I miss that?" he asked jokingly.
Manisha Shahi-Balangon, the mother of a son with special needs, asked Weiner how he would improve special education. He said the city bureaucracy makes it too hard for the diagnosed special needs children to be placed into adequate programs.
After Weiner left, Shahi-Balangon said that “the fact that there was a diverse number of questions and topics raised [was] good.” But she wished Weiner had gone into more detail about special education.
Many people said that they hadn’t made up their minds. Harlem resident Kim Smith attended the event to continue her mayoral research.
“I’ve been to quite a few candidate forums in Harlem,” Smith said, adding that she often judges candidates by how much time they spend in her neighborhood.
Lawyer Joycelyn Kuls, who co-hosted the event with Williams, said that she also had not yet decided who she will vote for in the mayoral race.
“Right now I’m listening,” she said. “I’d like to hear what all the candidates have to say.”