NEW YORK (Reuters) - Anthony Weiner resisted mounting calls to bow out of the New York City mayoral race on Wednesday, a day after admitting he had continued the sexually charged online chats that led him to resign from Congress in disgrace two years ago.
Weiner, who took the lead in several polls soon after announcing his political comeback in May, said in an email to supporters that he should have been clearer about how long the behavior had persisted but that he hoped voters would give him another chance.
The New York Times and the New York Daily News both published editorials on Wednesday urging Weiner, a Democrat who was once a leading liberal voice in Congress, to end his bid to follow Mayor Michael Bloomberg into City Hall.
“The serially evasive Mr. Weiner should take his marital troubles and personal compulsions out of the public eye, away from cameras, off the Web and out of the race for mayor of New York City,” the New York Times wrote in its lead editorial, adding he had “disqualified himself” for public service.
Weiner told a news conference on Tuesday he had sent lewd images of himself to women online until at least last summer.
The New York Post, known for its outrageous headlines, went with “Meet Carlos Danger” - a reference to Weiner’s reported pseudonym in the online chats with a woman he met over the Internet.
Weiner insisted he would not drop out. In his email, he said his campaign was about something larger than himself and that he would not “leave New Yorkers without a choice.”
Of the resumption of online activity that had cost him his last job, Weiner said: “It was a terrible mistake that I unfortunately returned to during a rough time in our marriage.”
Until the revelations, Weiner was ahead in the mayoral race. On Wednesday, Quinnipiac University released a poll - conducted before Weiner’s news conference - that found him leading Democratic candidates with 26 percent of the vote. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn followed with 22 percent, and former City Comptroller Bill Thompson had 20 percent.
Weiner’s latest troubles began on Monday after a gossip website called The Dirty published a series of sexually explicit messages and images an unnamed young woman said she received from Weiner, including pictures of his penis.
The woman was identified by CNN on Wednesday as Sydney Elaine Leathers, 23, of Evansville, Indiana. CNN interviewed an acquaintance who said she had engaged in a sexually explicit text relationship with Weiner.
Reuters was unable to independently verify the identity of the woman. She could not be reached by Reuters for comment. The acquaintance, contacted by Reuters, declined to be interviewed.
The woman gave the website numerous screenshots of what the website said were chats on Facebook and another social media website in which Weiner described the sexual acts he wanted to perform on her and which she apparently encouraged.
“You are a walking fantasy,” Weiner reportedly said in one of the chat’s less explicit exchanges, which took place after the two began communicating in July 2012, when the woman was 22.
Buzzfeed, a news and entertainment website, said it had identified a woman in her early 20s from Indiana as the source of the new chats.
Nik Richie, the owner of The Dirty, told Reuters in an interview that he could not confirm the woman’s name. But he described her as “star struck” and said she genuinely believed she and Weiner were in love.
“They would have conversations all the time. He was like a little child. He needed validation from her all the time. They talked every day, sometimes several times a day,” he said.
During Tuesday’s news conference, Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, stood at his side, alternately smiling and looking awkwardly away. After apologizing for her nervousness, she read out her own statement saying she had forgiven him.
To many New Yorkers, Abedin, a longtime aide to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, proved a sympathetic figure.
“I say Huma for mayor,” Tina Brown, the editor of Newsweek, wrote on Twitter. “She has all the qualities he doesn’t.”
Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corp owns the New York Post, called Weiner a “sicko.”
“Should help city by just fading away,” he wrote on Twitter.
Some voters shared the sentiment.
“I know nobody’s perfect, but I don’t think he’s trustworthy,” said Dottie Lipski, 55, a graphic designer.
Other voters said they didn’t think Weiner’s personal failings had anything to do with his ability to lead.
“It’s two separate things. It doesn’t have anything to do with his qualifications to be mayor,” said Racquita McMillon, a 38-year-old merchandise analyst.
One of his rivals in the Democratic primary, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who was in fourth place with 15 percent of the vote in the latest Quinnipiac poll, urged Weiner to withdraw. Thompson, who often appears in third place in the polls, said the news was “deeply disturbing.”
Quinn, Weiner’s nearest rival, stopped short of calling on Weiner to withdraw, but criticized what she described as “a pattern of reckless behavior, consistently poor judgment, and difficulty with the truth,” in a statement on Wednesday.
Weiner, who has often gamely conceded that his name is ready-made for late-night comedians’ jokes, was ribbed on Tuesday night by David Letterman, who suggested other pseudonyms for Weiner to consider: Carlos Dangler, Throb Reiner and Eliot Spitzer.
Reporting by Jonathan Allen and Edith Honan; Additional reporting by Brendan O'Brien; Editing by Dina Kyriakidou and Eric Beech