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Whose voice matters on Anthony Weiner's fate?

By David Gergen, CNN Senior Political Analyst
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • David Gergen: Top Democrats have urged Anthony Weiner to resign
  • Poll found most of his constitutents think Weiner should not resign
  • Gergen says Democrats outside the district have legitimate voice in the matter
  • He says Weiner, who is seeking treatment, owes it to his party to leave

Editor's note: David Gergen is a senior political analyst for CNN and has been an adviser to four presidents. He is professor of public service and director of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. Follow him on Twitter: @david_gergen

Cambridge, Massachusetts (CNN) -- Who should decide the fate of Anthony Weiner? His constituents in Queens and Brooklyn? Or the leadership of the Democratic Party?

Those questions were thrown into sharp relief Saturday as top leaders of the party, starting with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, issued coordinated statements saying that he should seek treatment and step down immediately.

Weiner quickly defied them, announcing that he would seek treatment but would only take a leave of absence from the House.

Once again, Weiner is clinging to his position that party leaders can take a hike; he will listen to his constituents. No wonder: a Marist/NY1 poll of 500 of his constituents found that 56% did not think he should resign. Weiner could also take reassurance from Friday's New York Times where columnist Jim Dwyer argued that Weiner should not be accountable to Democratic leaders but only to his constituents. The voters "employ" him and therefore, only they have a right to push him out.

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The truth is that Anthony Weiner would not be a national figure were it not for the support he has had from his party.
--David Gergen
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Who is right? For my money, Weiner is wrong. Of course, the views of his constituents should count (as do those of his wife). But he bears a heavy responsibility to the Democratic party as well. After all, he would probably not be in the office were it not for Democrats beyond his district and he would certainly not be a national figure were it not for his party.

MAPLight.org, a nonprofit that tracks political contributions, reports that between 2005 and 2007 (the most recent analysis available), 92% of Weiner's campaign contributions came from outside his district, putting him in the top 15% of representatives for reliance on donors outside his own district. Does that sound like a congressman accountable only to his constituents?

Or consider: Media outlets such as MSNBC, CNN, and Fox have called upon Weiner repeatedly to appear as a spokesman for Democrats. His combativeness and quick wit have clearly added to his attractiveness to the media, but does anyone seriously believe he was there simply as a representative of his voters in Queens and Brooklyn?

Did the Democratic National Campaign Committee ask him to send out their official fundraising letter after the passage of the health care bill because he represents that district?

The truth is that Anthony Weiner would not be a national figure were it not for the support he has had from his party.

In his book "Profiles in Courage," then-Sen. John F. Kennedy wrote persuasively of the need for anyone elected to Congress to be accountable not only to constituents but also to party and to conscience. The demands may be conflicting but that's life in the fast lane.

Kennedy wrote, "All of us in the Congress are made fully aware of the importance of party unity (what sins have been committed in that name!), and the adverse effect upon our party's chances in the next election which any rebellious conduct might bring."

Anthony Weiner acknowledges that he has engaged in "rebellious conduct" that could affect his party's welfare. Yes, his constituents matter, but his party leaders have now spoken with a united and powerful voice. Not a single one has asked him to stay. Weiner now owes it to his party and to the House to leave.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of David Gergen.

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