By Edith Honan
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The race to succeed New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg could receive an added dose of intrigue with former Congressman Anthony Weiner considering a run for office two years after he stepped away from politics in a scandal over lewd pictures.
Weiner, who has a sizable campaign war chest and strong name recognition across the city, could pose a formidable challenge to current front-runner, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who would be the city's first female and first lesbian mayor.
"You're talking about a city where anything can happen at any time and generally does," Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf said. "The conventional wisdom is the field is weak."
Sheinkopf also said it would be hard for Weiner to win City Hall, but that a bid could open other political doors, including a possible run for city comptroller.
"This is a trial balloon. And if trial balloons don't go up, they burst and they create opportunities," he said.
In a lengthy interview with The New York Times magazine, posted online on Wednesday, Weiner said that, after spending $100,000 on polling, he had concluded that voters might be willing to give him a second chance.
"I don't have this burning, overriding desire to go out and run for office," said Weiner, a Democrat who was once considered an early front-runner in the race. "It's not the single animating force in my life as it was for quite some time. But I do recognize, to some degree, it's now or maybe never for me, in terms of running for something."
The news could shake up the mayor's race five months before the September 10 primary election. While City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has held a commanding lead in public opinion polls for the Democratic primary, political experts have said in recent days the race remains wide open.
Once seen as a rising star among Democrats, Weiner, 48, established himself as a leading liberal voice in the U.S. House of Representatives and was considered a front-runner for mayor until his fall from grace.
He was known for making fiery speeches on the House floor on issues including expanding healthcare access and aiding first responders to the September 11 attacks who suffered health consequences. Weiner, who resigned from Congress in June 2011 before completing his seventh term, had made an unsuccessful run for mayor in 2005.
His downfall came quickly in 2011 after he accidentally posted a lewd photograph of himself on Twitter. The married politician had intended it only for a woman with whom he had been sharing messages.
After first insisting his Twitter account had been hacked, transcripts of other sexually charged communications with women were made public. Weiner admitted his transgression and resigned.
LITTLE STAR POWER
Insiders have bemoaned the lack of star wattage from candidates in both political parties to follow Bloomberg, an independent who is nearing the end of his third and final term in office.
Both Bloomberg, a billionaire businessman whose initial bid for mayor marked his first foray into politics, and his predecessor Rudolph Giuliani became national figures after taking the office.
"This is a race that hasn't happened yet," said Lee Miringoff of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion. "The voters aren't clamoring for anything yet."
Bloomberg's failure to endorse any of the current candidates has contributed to the sense that the race for mayor has yet to excite average voters.
Bruce Berg, a professor of political science at Fordham University, questioned whether there was room for Weiner.
"Obviously, it's a very crowded race, and there are credible candidates on both sides," Berg said. "It is still Christine Quinn's race to lose."
A survey by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, released on Wednesday, found Quinn leading the Democratic field with 32 percent, down five points from Quinnipiac's February poll.
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio follows with 14 percent. Former City Comptroller William Thompson, who lost to Bloomberg four years ago, is supported by 13 percent of voters, and 7 percent back current comptroller John Liu.
Weiner was not included in the poll.
On the Republican side, more than half of voters are undecided. Joseph Lhota, the former chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, leads the field with 23 percent, though nearly two-thirds of voters say they had not heard enough about him to form a view. George McDonald, founder of the Doe Fund, a non-profit that helps the formerly homeless, followed at 11 percent, and businessman John Catsimatidis has the backing of 8 percent.
(Reporting by Edith Honan; Editing by Scott Malone and Jan Paschal)