Rep. Anthony Weiner's political future in New York City and Congress are up in the air after his tearful confession that he sent a photo of his aroused groin to a Twitter follower and then lied about it.
The 46-year-old congressman representing Brooklyn and Queens had raised more than $5 million for a 2013 mayoral run, and had attracted national attention for his passionate Capitol Hill speech on the 9/11 health bill.
But now he is facing an ethics investigation in Congress, and Democratic leaders say they are deeply disturbed.
Weiner's political mentor, Sen. Charles Schumer, said he was "pained and saddened" and says Weiner did the right thing by taking responsibility for his actions.
During an emotional news conference on Monday, at times stopping to choke up, Weiner apologized to his wife, family, constituents and friends, admitting he is "ashamed" but does not plan to resign. He said he does not believe he broke the law.
"I haven’t told the truth, and I’ve done things I deeply regret," Weiner said. "I brought pain to people I care about the most and the people who believed in me, and for that I’m deeply sorry."
The 46-year-old Democrat, who was first elected to Congress in 1998, said he has never met any of the women he corresponded with. He said his wife, longtime Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin, knew about previous relationships he had before they were married last year, but only found out on Monday morning that he sent the groin photo.
He said he believed all the women he has corresponded with online were of legal age, but admitted he had no way of knowing for sure.
One of the women, Meagan Broussard, 26, has said in various media reports that their online relationship began after she "liked" a video of Weiner on Facebook. She commented that it was "hot," and they began chatting.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi called for an Ethics Committee investigation "to determine whether any official resources were used or any other violation of House rules occurred."
Weiner said when he realized he sent the photo publicly on Twitter, he "panicked" and began making up the story that he maintained until Monday.
He insisted that his Twitter account had been hacked, but also said he could not say "with certitude" whether he was the man in the photo.
On Monday he said that he had lied.
"I was embarrassed and I didn't want it to lead to other embarrassing things," Weiner said. "It was a dumb thing to do to try to tell lies about it, because it always leads to more lies... I knew I was putting people in a bad position and I didn't want to continue doing it."
Asked how he thought his constituents would respond at the voting booth when he is up for re-election in 2012, he said "it's up to them."
“If they believe that this is something that means they don’t want to vote for me, I'm going to work very hard to win back their trust and to try to persuade them that this is a personal failing of mine, that I've worked very hard for my constituents for a very long time, very long hours, and that nothing about this should reflect in any way on my official duties or on my oath of office."
Voters outside Anthony Weiner's office in Queens say it was dumb to send lewd photos of himself to young women on the Internet. But they don't think it will end his political career. Nor should it, many say.
"He can survive this, but he has a lot of work to do. What he did was reprehensible and he has to set an example to the public," said Ron Goldsman, of Forest Hills.
Salima John, of Richmond Hill, also said she believed Weiner was wrong, but he should not step down.
"I don't think he should resign, because that's his job," she said.
Mayor Bloomberg said Tuesday that the voters "will have an opportunity to express themselves" next year on whether they want Weiner to remain in office.
Weiner, who ran for mayor in 2005 and got enough votes to force a primary runoff, was preparing for a City Hall run in 2013. As of the last reporting period in January, he had raised $5.1 million, surpassing City Council Speaker Christine Quinn's $3.2 million and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer's $1 million.
Quinnipiac University pollster Maurice Carroll predicted Weiner no longer has a chance at being elected mayor.
“Weiner acted like a teenage kid and probably cooked any chance he might have had of being mayor,” Carroll said in an email.
But Congress may be different, Carroll said, predicting he has a chance.
“My guess is yes,” Carroll said. “The election isn’t until next year and he’s worked his district relentlessly, Chuck Schumer-like.”
Crisis public relations adviser Mike Paul said Democratic leaders are likely already trying to figure out how to get Weiner to step down.
“The leadership of the Democratic House will have to say in a few days, ‘We can’t back you on this. We have to clear our own names,’” Paul, of MGP & Associates PR, said in a phone interview with NBC New York. “When you have to choose between your own reputation and someone else’s, you’re going to protect your own.”