9th CD Reflected: Koch Intervention, Obama Distaster
By HENRY STERN
The election of Republican Robert Turner to Congress is significant for several reasons.
One is that the result will be widely perceived as a rebuke to President Obama and the Democratic Party, which it is. For some, the issue was jobs and the economy. For others, the administration’s hostility to Israel is an important issue, which affected Catholic voters as well as Jews. The hostility of Muslim extremists extends to all other religions, and the Catholics were the original crusaders in the Middle Ages.
The Democrat, David Weprin, was clearly the machine candidate, chosen in part because he could be counted on not to squawk too loudly when his district was eliminated. Mr. Weprin, a retiring person and a hard worker, would not be in politics except that his father, the distinguished Saul Weprin, rose to be Speaker of the Assembly. David’s younger brother, Mark Weprin, was also a member of the Assembly before he was elected to the City Council in 2009. The Weprins are the last remaining political dynasty in the Queens delegation to Albany, the Hevesi clan having been reduced to son Andrew, an assemblyman since 2005.
There was no Democratic or Republican primary to select the candidate to fill the seat vacated by Anthony Weiner, whose troubles have been recounted at length. Normally party nominations are the result of primary elections, but in all five elections held last week, the departing officials left at a point on the calendar when a primary was not required, and the nominee could be selected by the county leader. Observers believe that Melinda Katz, the former Councilmember and Asssemblywoman, would have been a stronger candidate. She came in third while Weprin ran fourth in the 2009 contest for City Comptroller. But she would have been less likely to take a dive to suit the county leader.
Many voters had negative views on the economy and the Obama administration, which were reflected in the vote. When seen together, Turner, at 70, was physically more imposing than Weprin, who is 55. Turner was a more folksy and less political figure, running at a time when politicians are not held in high regard for good and sufficient reasons.
The solidarity of Democrats, practically all the legislators lining up like sparrows on a wire to support colleague Weprin, left the field open for independent Mayor Koch and Assemblyman Dov Hikind, both of whom occasionally support Republicans. Both Liberal Party members and Conservative leader Michael Long supported Turner. The Liberals want Obama to win in 2012, and urgently wish him to change course before it is too late. The Conservatives simply oppose Obama, and are promoting the Turner victory as a national uprising.
Basically, this was an election between boss-picked candidates to fill a vacancy created when party leaders decided that a wayward Congressman guilty of infantile behavior was dispensable. The problem they must face is that the cure for Weiner’s bizarre misconduct may be worse for the Democrats than the disease.
The wild card in the primary turned out to be Mayor Koch, a popular and credible octogenerian leader who seeks no public office, and is therefore more susceptible to the dictates of conscience. He has never been shy about expressing his opinions, and the fate of the Jewish people is an issue of great importance to him, although he is a secular Jew. His early intervention made the sleepy race competitive. The vigorous Turner campaign attracted both Russians and Orthodox Jews, neither of whom has particularly high regard for the other. Politically, the Russians are mostly conservative, having lived under an all-powerful state.
The Orthodox were upset that Weprin favored gay marriage, and said that his position was consistent with his Orthodoxy. His co-religionists disputed his claim. Turner promised Koch not to exploit the issue, and he kept his word. The Orthodox, however, consider this an important matter, even though the State Legislature had approved it and will not change its position, in part because of demographics and in part because of increasing public acceptance of same-sex marriage.
So it is that Mr. Turner will go to Washington, and the Ninth District, in its present gerrymandered dumb bell configuration, with a narrow link between Brooklyn and Queens, will retire to well-deserved oblivion, having enjoyed its moment in the spotlight. Unless there is another major hurricane or other disaster, the television towers will not return to Broad Channel and Howard Beach.
Let us hope that the President gains insight from the events in NY-9, as they call it, and returns to the foreign policy of American presidents starting with Harry Truman in 1948, with the exception of Jimmy Carter, who has established a center in Georgia that requires continuous infusions of funds, provided by friends in the Middle East.
More will be written about NY-9. It may be remembered like one of those towns whose high point was a battle in the Civil War, and after which slept quietly for a century. But, on Sept. 13, 2011, ten years and two days after the fateful 9/11, the people of the district spoke. I believe they were influenced to some extent by the national tragedy whose anniversary they had so recently observed. In any event, an election is a great public event and an expression of the views of the community which people who believe in democracy are bound to respect.