It may be the loneliest mayoral campaign in memory.
Anthony D. Weiner was holed up in his Manhattan apartment Wednesday as reporters waited.
He has virtually no campaign infrastructure, no labor unions leaping to his side, no army of on-the-ground foot soldiers eager to evangelize on his behalf.
But, curiously enough, he says it may be better that way.
The improbable campaign that Mr. Weiner, a Democrat, unveiled on Wednesday hinges on his image as a shunned outsider whose political solitude has unburdened him from coddling New York’s powerful special interests and freed him to speak uncomfortable truths, according to those close to him.
A scrappy political street fighter, never known for forging alliances or sharing the limelight, Mr. Weiner said in an interview that “to some degree, this is my most natural footing.”
Of the endorsements that his rivals are collecting like trophies this year, he said, “I’ve never really structured a campaign that way.”
Instead, after a self-imposed two-year exile, the 48-year-old former congressman will initiate a series of neighborly public outings intended to showcase him interacting with ordinary New Yorkers and send a clear message: The scandal has passed, and a tough city is prepared to hear him out. That process is expected to start on Thursday, when Mr. Weiner visits a subway station in Harlem.
“There may be, or are, many New Yorkers who would never vote for me,” he said. “Even those New Yorkers, I want to have a conversation with.”
But his on-the-fly, go-it-alone campaign, run with a skeletal staff, already has an erratic quality, which spilled out into public view on Wednesday morning. Around 1 a.m., a two-minute video announcing his candidacy popped up on his campaign Web site, then briefly disappeared. For most of the morning, the page introducing his candidacy contained outdated links and images from his days in Congress.
Much about his mayoral run seems in flux. Asked how many campaign offices he planned to open across the city, Mr. Weiner replied, “I don’t know.”
When would he begin running television advertisements? “I don’t know that either,” he said. His campaign will be managed by Danny Kedem, whose last brush with a mayoral race was running the re-election bid of New Haven’s 10-term leader. But there is little doubt that Mr. Weiner will be his own chief of strategy and operations.
On the opening day, he sought to address, but not belabor, the pattern of behavior that forced him to resign from Congress: befriending women online and sending them sexually explicit messages, including a photograph of himself in boxer shorts with an obvious erection.
Mr. Weiner dealt with it obliquely and glancingly. “Look, I made some big mistakes, and I know I let a lot of people down,” he says on the video, peering straight at the camera. “But I’ve also learned some tough lessons.”
In keeping with his reputation for provocation, Mr. Weiner released the video on a morning when his Democratic rivals were to speak at a forum in Midtown before an influential audience of civic and business leaders, ensuring that news of his candidacy would overshadow the event.
It did. Inside, his agitated rivals offered Mr. Weiner a grudging welcome to the race. “He loves the cameras,” Sal Albanese, a candidate from Brooklyn, said. “I know how he works. He is addicted. It’s a malady.”
In a sign of how quickly Mr. Weiner had reordered the political landscape, a top campaign aide to William C. Thompson Jr. quickly sent supporters a fund-raising pitch with the subject line “Anthony.”
“There are some folks out there who want to turn this race into a circus,” the e-mail read. “We can’t let that happen.”
Those who have spoken to Mr. Weiner predicted that he would try to seize the ground that has been all but neglected by his Democratic rivals: the common-sense centrism of former Mayor Edward I. Koch. Flush with about $5 million in campaign cash, he is likely to depict his opponents as machine liberals bent on mollifying unions and unprepared for the kind of tough financial decisions confronting the city. (Mr. Weiner said he would try to meet with union leaders even if they had already endorsed his opponents.)
In his campaign video, Mr. Weiner seemed to make a direct appeal to those working-class areas, recalling a childhood playing stickball in Brooklyn and taking in a Mets game in Queens.
Mr. Weiner is hardly blind to poll numbers, which show a deep distaste for his candidacy. A Quinnipiac University survey released on Wednesday revealed that 49 percent of city voters opposed his entry into the race. Among women, the figure was even higher — 52 percent.
His campaign video sought to counter those objections by evoking a new image of Mr. Weiner as matured family man, seen on-screen feeding his newborn son, Jordan, as his wife, Huma Abedin, sits by his side. “It’s the best part of my day,” he says.
Ms. Abedin, a press-shy aide to Hillary Rodham Clinton, stands in as a character witness. “We love this city, and no one will work harder to make it better than Anthony,” she said, turning her head to look at her husband.
Those close to Mr. Weiner say he believes that the unease about him can be overcome and that he can rise above an uninspiring field. First, they say, he will reassure voters that his family has made peace with his conduct, and then he will do what he does best: show up tirelessly and ubiquitously, becoming such a constant presence in the city and on television screens that his troubles blend into the background.
“I hope that just as my wife has forgiven me, that I get a second opportunity to talk to New Yorkers about the challenges they face,” he said in the interview.
Mr. Weiner has long relished his reputation as a gifted political combatant, skilled at putting opponents on the defensive. (“He hits so hard and so clean,” his friend Ben Affleck, the actor, once gushed.)
But with so many voters now viewing him negatively, there are perils to being seen as belligerent, and Mr. Weiner seemed to suggest that his appetite for such jousting had abated. “I’m not interested in attacking anybody,” he said. “I think that the things I have to say and the ideas that I have will set me apart.”
And even in the first few hours of his campaign, as he sought to re-emerge as a public figure and start a robust debate about the city’s future, he remained holed up inside his apartment in the Gramercy Park neighborhood of Manhattan. His campaign seemed determined that the warm images from the video be the ones that dominated the day. Given his relationship with the city’s aggressive tabloid press, which recently chased after him into a subway car, a more spontaneous schedule seemed risky. So he held no public events.
But even Mr. Weiner needs friends. At lunchtime on Wednesday, his new press secretary, Barbara Morgan, engaged in a bit of political bridge building.
She appeared before a group of reporters and photographers camped in front of the candidate’s apartment building with three boxes of hot pizza.
“These are for you,” she told the reporters. “I know it’s hard to be out there.” Then she walked away.
Michael M. Grynbaum contributed reporting.