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September 15, 2011 9:39 am

Weprin Loss Seen as Obama Referendum

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avatar by Maxine Dovere

Just before the call: Assemblyman David Weprin surrounded by New York City's Democrats (from left) City Council Woman Elizabeth Crowley, Comptroller John Liu, City Council President Christine Quinn, and Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio. Photo: Maxine Dovere.

The Republicans are calling it a national referendum. Democrats say the results of the 9th Congressional election are unique – only a reflection of a single district. Yet for the first time in 88 years, Queens and Brooklyn’s Congressional District 9 is sending a Republican representative to Congress. While there was a vague undercurrent of concern throughout the campaign, few thought that David Weprin, Assemblyman, City Council veteran, inheritor of a long political heritage, would – could – be defeated by political novice Bob Turner. After all, Democrats had held this seat since 1923.

But the voters said otherwise.

Since the beginning of the campaign, the election was characterized as a referendum on national politics, adding greatly to the interest generally afforded a “local” contest. There was concern that dissatisfaction with President Obama, the economy, and in this heavily Jewish district, concern about administration pressure on Israel would impact the election.

It did.

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The New York Times endorsed Weprin, saying he would “represent the district with far more expertise, sensitivity and fiscal rationality” that Turner. Turner’s proposals, said New York’s preeminent newspaper, “would take a magician, not a businessman.”

The endorsements of Turner by Assemblyman Dov Hikind of Brooklyn -where Weprin lost by a hefty two-to-one margin – and former Mayor Edward I. Koch, added traction to the Republican’s candidacy. Koch promoted the election of Turner as a protest against President Obama’s position on Israel. Their words appear to have influenced many in the socially conservative Orthodox Jewish and Russian communities.

Following the election, Hikind told Al Jazerra “Democrats’ are seeking his consul” to understand what happened in the District 9 election.”  His support of Turner, he told Al Jazeera, was a message to President Obama. “I don’t trust him,” said Hikind.

David Weprin is an experienced legislator and was the candidate selected by Representative Joe Crowley, the Democratic party leader in Queens County. He was supported by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and had the backing of New York’s senators, the New York Times, the Queens Tribune – which said Turner’s policy positions “are at odds with the values of most voters in the district and the nation’s best interest,” calling David Weprin “the best candidate… who deserves your vote Tuesday” – and the Jewish Press, one of the major papers in the Orthodox community.

The voters said otherwise. By early September, Weprin was down 6 percentage points.  On election night, the differential was 8 points.

While the District 9 results have been characterized as a “fluke” by the White House, Republicans view the victory as a precursor to 2012. David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report says the election had “both parties reversing the roles they played the morning after Democratic Rep. Kathy Hochul scored an upset victory in Upstate New York’s 26th CD.”

New York State is slated to lose two congressional districts; one was to have been taken from an area considered a “Republican seat, the other from a “Democratic” base. Democrats may now be faced with offering an alternate district for elimination. It is not just the Democrats in the House of Representative who may be under siege: several political commentators also have suggested that incumbent Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s name could also be placed in the ring of the “vulnerable.”  A recent poll by Siena College puts her approval rating below 50 percent – not a positive place for an incumbent to begin a campaign. Further, unlike Weprin, she is considered an Obama Democrat, which may not be a position of strength in 2012.

Post-election, Weprin commented that Queens and Brooklyn voters’ negative opinion about President Obama was responsible for the Tuesday loss. Speaking to the New York Post, he said  “The message of the campaign was ‘Send Obama a message,’ the problem was that he’s the president and people are frustrated, and it’s just natural to take it out on the top guy — or the top guy’s party….I think that voters looked at it as a referendum on the president.”

Also at issue was Weprin’s vote for the legalization of gay marriage. The Orthodox community disagreed with his NYS Assembly vote on an issue he characterized as a “civil not a religious matter.” Some $75,000 was spent by a defense of marriage political advocacy group to publicize Weprin’s stand on this issue.

Each advocacy group that expressed an opinion is claiming some segment of Bob Turner’s success in this race. Henry  Stern, former Parks Commissioner and current political activist, commenting that David Weprin, was “part of  the last remaining political dynasty in the Queens delegation to Albany,”  notes that the “solidarity of Democrats… to support colleague Weprin,” was strong and united. This during a week in which the New York Times/CBS poll finds that President Obama’s “support is eroding,” with more than fifty percent of those polled fearful of  imminent “double dip recession.”  The Weprin defeat can be read as an expression of voters fears about Washington’s leadership.

Says Henry Stern: “More will be written about New York-9.”

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