Rep. Anthony Weiner, once a rising political star with his eye on City Hall, announced he was stepping down from Congress because his cyber-sexual scandal had become too much of a distraction, bowing to pressure from Democratic leaders who had pushed him to resign.
Weiner had resisted calls for his resignation for days, and last weekend he said he was taking a leave of absence to get treatment after admitting to several inappropriate online relationships with women he had never met. The correspondence included sexually charged messages and photos Weiner snapped of various body parts.
But a leave of absence was not enough. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi pushed Weiner to resign, first privately, and then publicly after he resisted.
A Democratic leadership aide said Weiner at one point pushed back at Pelosi, citing polls in his district that showed a majority still supported him. But she is said to have told him that the polls would allow him to go graciously.
Weiner made the announcement Thursday in his district, at a senior center where he launched his political career 20 years ago as a City Council candidate.
"I had hoped to be able to continue the work that the citizens of my district elected me to do; to fight for the middle class and those struggling to make it," Weiner said. "Unfortunately the distraction that I have created has made that impossible."
He gave no indication on what he will do next, other than to say "I'll be looking for other ways to contribute my talents to make sure that we live up to that most New York and American of ideals."
According to published reports, Weiner and his wife, Huma Abedin, fled to the Hamptons shortly after Weiner appeared alone to deliver his resignation news.
Weiner's firebrand style in Congress, where he first entered in 1999, earned him a cult following in recent years, and he was widely considered a front-runner for the 2013 mayoral race.
The House adjourned for the weekend without Weiner's resignation being put into the record, so he is still a congressman until next week. The next opportunity for it to be formally submitted is on Monday.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has the power to call a special election for the seat. Candidates would have to turn to their county committee parties to get on the ballot, according to the Board of Elections.
Some names that have been floated include: Democratic state Assemblyman Rory Lancman, Republican City Councilman Eric Ulrich, Democratic Councilman Mark Weprin, former Democratic Councilman Eric Gioia, former Democratic Councilwoman Melinda Katz and Democratic Assemblyman David Weprin.
The 46-year-old married lawmaker first sent the photo to a female Twitter follower on May 27. Shortly afterward, he sent out a tweet claiming he had been hacked, a lie he maintained for 10 days. During that time he alternated between silence and multiple media appearances, at points becoming irate that reporters would not let the issue go.
During a key interview with MSNBC, Weiner said he could not say "with certitude" that it wasn't him in the photo. He also hired a lawyer and declined to involve police in the supposed hacking, which raised flags among those who believed he had sent the lewd tweet.
On June 6, hours after conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart announced that he had more incriminating photos of Weiner, including graphic sexual images, the congressman called a news conference where he confessed to tweeting the original photo and said he had maintained several other "inappropriate" relationships online.
"To be clear, the picture was of me, and I sent it," he said that day, at times choking up. "I haven’t told the truth, and I’ve done things I deeply regret. I brought pain to people I care about the most and the people who believed in me, and for that I’m deeply sorry."
Still, Weiner insisted he would not leave his seat.
But his own party began to abandon him, calling for his resignation, one after another. As the days passed, more embarrassing photos leaked out, along with transcripts of messages Weiner allegedly sent to various women.
The latest photos showed Weiner, some half-naked and posing with a towel, that he shot with his BlackBerry in the House members' gym, raising again questions about whether he had crossed ethics lines by engaging in this behavior on Capitol grounds.
A former porn actress on Wednesday also said Weiner told her to lie about their email relationship, and said he pestered her with sexually charged messages.