NEW YORK — Retired tax auditor Jerry Stern was sitting in the front row with reporters the day in June 2011 when then-U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner — reading a short statement and ignoring the shouts from hecklers — announced his retirement from Congress at a senior center after some of his sexually-charged photographs and emails with women became public.
"I thought then that was the right thing to do," said Stern, 85, outside the Council Center for Senior Citizens in Brooklyn Thursday, where members have spent the week kvetching about their former congressman's racy online behavior.
Two years after resigning, the married Democrat is a mayoral candidate — and finds himself yet again in a growing sexting scandal. He said Thursday he'd traded sexually explicit messages with as many as three women since resigning, bringing the total number of women with whom he had exchanged illicit messages to six to 10.
"I think he's making a big mistake" by staying in New York City's mayoral race, Stern said.
"If he should become mayor, they'll always make fun of his crotch," he said, referring to some of the photos Weiner is said to have sent women. "That's humiliating to the people of New York."
In conversations with nearly a dozen seniors at the center where Weiner made his 2011 speech — in the heart of his old Congressional district that covered parts of Brooklyn and Queens — almost everyone expressed disbelief that Weiner could find himself yet again in a scandalous situation.
And while many thought Weiner's latest revelations made him unqualified to keep running, some remained his loyal defenders.
"His personal problem is his personal problem," said Elaine Tabroff, 88, a retired bookkeeper who voted for Weiner during his seven runs for Congress. "Clinton and the others did this, so why should he be ostracized?"
Another woman now is ambivalent about Weiner's mayoral ambitions.
"I was going to vote for Weiner but right now I'm reconsidering," said Elaine Quall, 84. "I don't know what to think. It's very strange. He's so young."
Weiner's latest scandal appears to have taken a toll — a new NBC 4 New York/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll released Thursday showed he had fallen behind City Council Speaker Christine Quinn in the crowded Democratic field, despite placing near the top of most previous polls. Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called his behavior "reprehensible" and "disrespectful of women."
Some rivals, newspaper editorial boards and other politicians have called on him to withdraw from the race, but Weiner has insisted he's staying in.
He said Thursday he was still "working with people" to get help dealing with his penchant for X-rated online flirting and disputed that it's an addiction.
Earlier this week, the gossip website The Dirty posted explicit messages that a woman said she and Weiner sent each other starting in July 2012 — setting off a new wave of Weiner controversy. The scandal got seamier Thursday when the site posted an unredacted crotch shot that it said Weiner sent to a woman last year.
The woman who says she engaged in the online sex banter with Weiner last year, 23-year-old Sydney Leathers, confirmed her identity Thursday and told "Inside Edition" that Weiner disgusted her.
Weiner's wife, Huma Abedin, a longtime aide to Hillary Clinton, has publicly defended her husband, standing beside him at a news conference Tuesday and saying she had forgiven him.
But even Abedin's defense of her husband wasn't enough for many of his former constituents at the center, where he also announced his candidacy for the City Council in 1992.
"It's too much chutzpah," said Janis Feldman of Brooklyn. "A lot of people are getting a good laugh after this — it's like comic relief."
Weiner says he bets voters care more about their futures than about his past. But the new poll, which surveyed 551 registered voters Wednesday, found Quinn leads Weiner 25 percent to 16 percent, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points. The poll also found 55 percent of registered Democrats now have an unfavorable impression of Weiner, while 30 percent see him favorably. The numbers were nearly the reverse of a June poll by the same entities, which tallied a 52-36 percent favorable-to-unfavorable split then.
Marilyn Strauss, 80, said Weiner's behavior has been the talk of the town at the senior center.
"Most of the women feel like I do," said Strauss, calling Weiner a "sleazebag." ''But most of the men? Eh."