NEW YORK — When Huma Abedin first started getting media attention years ago, some people couldn’t help but wonder what this beautiful, ambitious woman with high-fashion sense and a world-class Rolodex saw in Anthony Weiner.
That’s a question New Yorkers might be asking themselves again after revelations that Weiner, now a candidate for mayor of New York, didn’t immediately give up his habit of sending sexual pictures and messages to female fans after his humiliating resignation from Congress in 2011.
Abedin herself took a shot at an answer in an awkward joint news conference Tuesday, saying she had forgiven her husband and felt his marital indiscretions were “between us.” She offered an even more basic explanation in a first-person essay in Harper’s Bazaar due on newsstands in September.
“Quite simply, I love my husband, I love my city, and I believe in what he wants to do for the people of New York,” she wrote.
Will that be enough to satisfy a bewildered public? Maybe not. But people who go searching for a deeper motive are almost certain to get it wrong.
“None of us know what’s going on with that couple now,” said Stephen Medvic, an associate professor of government at Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania and author of the book, “In Defense of Politicians.”
“She made a statement,” he said. “Let’s leave it at that. Let’s not try to put into somebody’s mind what’s not there.”
In an email sent to campaign supporters Tuesday, Weiner tried to explain his actions, saying he turned to women on the Internet after his marriage hit a rocky patch.
“Sending these embarrassing messages to women online, whom I never met, was a personal failing that was hurtful to my wife and a part of my life that Huma and I have put behind us. These things I did, as you have read in the papers, didn’t happen once. It was a terrible mistake that I unfortunately returned to during a rough time in our marriage,” he wrote. “After a lot of reflection, some professional help, and a general reorientation of my life, Huma has given me a second chance.”
Abedin now seems to be trying to shake off a cloud of humiliation, which seems an exceeding unlikely place for someone whose reputation as a top aide to Hillary Rodham Clinton was based on an uncanny ability to navigate the chaos of presidential campaigns and global diplomatic trips with the poise of Grace Kelly.
Born in Kalamazoo, Mich., Abedin moved as a toddler to Saudi Arabia, where her father, an Islamic scholar born in India, ran an institute that studied Muslim communities in non-Muslim societies, and her mother, a sociology professor, taught at a women’s college.
Educated at George Washington University, Abedin entered public service as a White House intern and quickly established a special relationship with the then first lady. She has been at Clinton’s side ever since, joining her Senate staff then her presidential campaign before becoming her deputy chief of staff at the State Department.
By all accounts, Abedin has been more than a trusted employee. When Abedin was preparing to marry Weiner in 2010, Clinton said at one celebration that if she had a second daughter, it would be Huma.
Long known as a behind-the-scenes presence, Abedin began to attract more public attention after gushing 2007 profiles in the New York Observer and Vogue magazine, which photographed her looking like a movie star in a red gown. Those and other articles attributed her with a frightening work ethic and an almost supernatural ability to troubleshoot and stop problems in their tracks without breaking a sweat.
Weiner was quoted in the Observer piece as saying, “I think there’s some dispute as to whether Huma’s actually human or not.” At the time, the couple hadn’t yet disclosed that they were dating. The two knew each other in political circles for years before becoming romantically involved.
When her new husband’s political career disintegrated in 2011 just as she was about to have a child, Abedin couldn’t escape the obvious comparisons with her mentor, Clinton, who shoved her own husband’s scandals aside to become a massive figure in American politics.
In some ways, the additional name recognition brought by the scandal made her a target.
Last July, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, a Minnesota Republican, wrote a letter to the State Department accusing Abedin’s late father, mother and brother of being connected to the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian Islamist political party.
That unsubstantiated allegation drew a rebuke from even some Republicans. Sen. John McCain gave a speech on the Senate floor praising Abedin’s patriotism and calling her representative of “what is best about America.”
Since then, Abedin has appeared dedicated to resurrecting her husband’s political career.
She urged him to run for mayor and helped arrange a lengthy New York Times Magazine profile last spring in which the couple talked at length about their struggle to overcome marital problems. In those interviews, they did not disclose that Weiner had continued to chase other women online even after his resignation.
As Weiner’s unlikely mayoral campaign has picked up steam, Abedin has helped organize the campaign staff, become his most important fundraiser, and hit the campaign trail, where she told reporters that she was “having so much fun.”
Her nervous public appearance with Weiner on Tuesday looked anything but.
“My heart just reaches out to her. She’s such a classy, beautiful lady and I just hate to see her in this,” U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel said.
People watching the eye-popping spectacle were sure to wonder why she would subject herself to that kind of torture, especially since her career path would appear to be bright even if her husband left public life forever.
Abedin left the State Department when Clinton retired and now heads her private office. If Clinton runs for president again in 2016, most observers expect her to play a role in the campaign.
Stephanie Coontz, who wrote “Marriage: A History” and teaches family studies at Evergreen State University in Olympia, Wash., said it’s a shame that her response to her husband’s behavior would be a subject of attention at all.
“Everyone is second-guessing the woman’s decision,” she said. “You saw it with Hillary Clinton. ‘Oh, she’s manipulative. She’s power-hungry.’ We do this instead of recognize that marriage and love are complex.
“Someday, it’ll be a man standing there ashen-faced, and we’ll say, ‘Oh my God,’ because his masculinity will be called into question,” she said. “But things happen in marriages. Couples find a way to deal or they don’t. We don’t need more reality shows!”