NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. Representative Anthony Weiner, ensnared in a humiliating flap for sending lewd photos of himself to women online, resigned on Thursday, ending a weeks-long scandal that made his fellow Democrats cringe.
“I had hoped to be able to continue the work that the citizens of my district had elected me to do -- to fight for the middle class and those struggling to make it,” Weiner told reporters in Brooklyn at the seniors’ centre where he first announced plans to run for New York City Council 20 years ago.
“Unfortunately, the distraction that I have created has made that impossible, so today I am announcing my resignation from Congress,” he said, looking composed in contrast to 10 days ago when he tearfully admitted to online dalliances.
Once seen as a rising star among Democrats and widely expected to run for New York mayor, Weiner made his announcement alone, his wife absent, at a raucous event where he was heckled repeatedly.
Weiner, 46, represented parts of New York City in the House of Representatives since his first election in 1998. He had established himself as a leading liberal voice in the House and easily won a seventh two-year term last November.
Under pressure from President Barack Obama and both major political parties, Weiner previously insisted he would seek treatment and take a short leave of absence from the House.
“Obviously, it’s been a tough incident for him,” Obama said in an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America” to air on Friday. “But I‘m confident that they’ll refocus and he’ll refocus, and they’ll end up being able to bounce back,” he added in an excerpt released on Thursday night.
On Tuesday, Obama told NBC News: “He’s embarrassed his wife and his family. ... If it was me, I would resign.”
Democrats feared that Weiner had become a political liability to their efforts to win back the House from Republicans in next year’s elections. Weiner also had been seen as a strong contender for New York mayor in 2013.
Elizabeth Viggiano, a 62-year-old senior at the centre, said: “It’s heartbreaking. He got caught with his pants down.”
Other locals such as Robert Kolowaski, 56, had mixed feelings, calling his actions victimless. “He was very feisty,” he said. “He stood up for the people.”
Weiner is the third member of Congress to step down this year in sex scandals. Republican John Ensign of Nevada quit the Senate after an extramarital affair with a former campaign aide. Republican Chris Lee of New York quit the House after sending a shirtless photo of himself to a woman he met online.
Weiner’s resignation marked a remarkable fall from grace for a politician who in 1992 became New York’s youngest-ever City Council member, at age 27.
Weiner was known for his forceful debating and acerbic wit. He had powerful friends, too. Weiner married Huma Abedin, 35, an aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a ceremony last July officiated by former President Bill Clinton.
His mentor was New York’s powerful U.S. senator, Chuck Schumer, for whom he had worked after graduating from college.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said: “Congressman Weiner exercised poor judgement in his actions and poor judgement in his reaction to the revelations. Today, he made the right judgement in resigning.”
A senior Democratic congressional aide said the final straw for Pelosi was on June 8, when additional photos of Weiner emerged.
The aide added that during a call last Friday, Weiner urged Pelosi to reconsider her call for him to resign, citing polls showing his constituents wanted him to stay. “Consider those rose petals to let you go graciously,” Pelosi told him, according to the aide.
After talking with his wife, who returned from an overseas work trip with Hillary Clinton on Tuesday, Weiner called Democratic leaders on Wednesday to tell them he would resign, congressional aides said.
At his news conference, he apologized to his wife and thanked her for standing by him.
Democrats are expected to retain Weiner’s House seat, which will be filled in a special election.
Ironically, for someone who had successfully used social media such as Twitter and Facebook to boost his political brand, Weiner’s fall was prompted when he accidentally posted publicly via Twitter a close-up of his bulging underpants.
Weiner denied for more than a week that he sent a photo of himself in boxer briefs to a woman in Seattle on May 28, claiming his Twitter account had been hacked. But on June 6, he admitted he had lied and had inappropriate exchanges with six women, some after he was married.
Since then, more lewd pictures of Weiner have surfaced, making him daily fodder for tabloids and late-night comedians.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg called Weiner’s fall “a lost opportunity” that was “tragic.”
Writing by Mark Egan; Reporting by Michelle Nichols, Richard Cowan, Thomas Ferraro, JoAnne Allen, Daniel Trotta and Paula Rogo; Editing by Peter Cooney