GOP Shift, Galvanized Orthodoxy
Factor In Democrats’ 9th CD Loss
By DOMENICK RAFTER
It was an election result few believed was ever possible a few years ago. A retired Breezy Point businessman, mostly unknown a year ago, runs for Congress as a Republican to succeed one of the most well-known progressive Democrats in the country after he was forced out of office by scandal.
|As Assemblyman David Weprin speaks to supporters, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (l.) notices a report on TV showing that Turner had been declared the winner.
Photo by Ira Cohen
And he wins.
The loser is a scion of Queens – and New York – politics; the son of a former State Assembly Speaker. But Tuesday’s election proves that what heretofore was impossible can happen on any given day, including the election of a Republican to represent Queens in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Bob Turner, a retired media executive, ran for Congress in 2010 against Anthony Weiner and never really thought he’d see the inside of the U.S. Capitol. Now he’s headed there. He defeated Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Little Neck) 54 to 46 percent to win the seat vacated by Weiner in June after he got caught sending pictures of his nearly naked crotch to women on Twitter and initially denied doing it, chalking it up to a hit job on him by a right wing activist.
In a race that swung on numerous campaign gaffes, the reaction among Jewish voters to President Barack Obama’s policy – and perceived attitude- toward the state of Israel, coupled with Weprin’s vote for marriage equality helped Turner come out ahead in the end.
“We have lit one candle today. It’s going to be a bonfire pretty soon,” Turner said to supporters at Roma View catering hall in Howard Beach shortly after midnight Tuesday night. Turner said that his victory would send a message to Washington; his campaign was about getting frustrated voters to send that message.
“It was people like us who got off their couch and said ‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore,’” he said.
Weprin initially didn’t concede Tuesday night, leaving the Cobblestone Inn in Forest Hills without making a statement after the race was called for Turner. He called his opponent to concede Wednesday morning.
“I just called Bob Turner to congratulate him on a well-fought campaign,” Weprin said. “He will now have the honor of representing Brooklyn and Queens in Congress, and I hope that he will work every day to represent all of the diverse communities that make up the 9th Congressional district.”
When Anthony Weiner succeeded Chuck Schumer in this district in 1998, it was a bastion of Democratic support; Al Gore won 67 percent there in 2000. But after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the district quickly veered right. The district suffered huge losses in the attacks, especially among police and firefighters in the Rockaways, and the issue of terrorism shot to the top of the list of concerns among residents.
In the 2002 elections, Weiner defeated his unknown opponent Al Donohue by 30 points, a far smaller number than his previous two victories. In that year’s gubernatorial race, incumbent Republican George Pataki cruised over Democratic nominee Carl McCall in the district. Four years earlier, Democratic nominee Peter Vallone Sr. kept the race close in the 9th despite losing to Pataki by a larger margin statewide.
Two years later, President George W. Bush took a surprising 44 percent in the district; that margin repeated itself in 2008, when John McCain got 44 percent, winning the Brooklyn portion, despite losing nationwide. The district was among Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s weakest downstate last November.
The Jewish Vote
Though the 9th district is overwhelmingly Democratic by registration, it’s not by voting bloc. About a third of the district is working class whites of Irish, Italian or Polish descent, a mostly Republican bloc outside of Forest Hills. Another third is Hispanic and Asian, a solidly Democratic group. The Democrats have won with the support of the other third – Jewish voters – who are especially strong in Brooklyn. Many of these Jews are Orthodox, who have leaned conservative in the last few years.
President Obama’s position on Israel became a major issue in the race after he announced he supported negotiating a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority – a precursor for the creation of a Palestinian state – starting with the borders of the two lands from before the 1967 war. Although this has been U.S. policy for the past few decades – Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush supported it – the announcement riled up some Jewish voters in the district.
Former Mayor Ed Koch latched onto that discontent and endorsed Turner in July, hoping to send a message to Obama that the policy, and his perceived frosty relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was unacceptable to Jewish voters.
Also in question was Weprin’s support for marriage equality, which proved unpopular in socially conservative Orthodox Jewish areas of Brooklyn, especially in Brighton Beach and Midwood neighborhoods. The area’s state assemblyman, Steve Cymbrowitz, was one of the Democratic “no” votes. A letter signed by 40 rabbis made its way around the district during the campaign blasting Weprin for voting to allow same-sex marriage, which they said violates “Torah Law.” Weprin had defended his vote on same-sex marriage, noting the religious protections in the bill that passed in June and went into effect in July.
Both these issues galvanized a significant portion of the Jewish vote, normally a solidly Democratic bloc, to Turner, helping give him the win. Some analysts say the results put in question the president’s support with Jewish voters nationwide, specifically on the issue of Israel.
The race was the closest Congressional election in Queens since 1992, when U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside) fended off a challenge from Suffolk County Legislator Allen Binder by a 7-point margin. That year was the first time Ackerman was facing voters on Long Island as well as Queens.
In the 9th district, it was the closest race since 1984 when Democrat Tom Manton defeated Republican Serphin Maltese by 5 points to replace Vice Presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro. Maltese later served in the State Senate.
The last Republican to represent Queens in Congress was John LeBoutillier, whose district was mainly in Nassau County, but included Douglaston, Little Neck and Bellerose. LeBoutillier defeated Democratic incumbent Lester Wolff in 1980 and held the seat for one term, leaving office at the end of 1982. The last Republican to represent a district entirely in Queens was Seymour Halpern, who represented a district that included Whitestone, Bayside, Fresh Meadows and most of Eastern Queens during the 1960s and early 1970s.
Though the Brooklyn portion of the 9th district hasn’t seen a Republican representing them in the House since 1923, much of the Queens portion was in the district of Republican Albert Bosch in the 1950s. Bosch was succeeded by Joe Addabbo Sr. in 1960.
Reach Reporter Domenick Rafter at email@example.com or (718) 357-7400, Ext. 125.