Weiner’s Exit Sets Off a Race to Be Israel’s Better Friend


koch-turnerThe New York Times reports: Assemblyman David I. Weprin, the Democratic candidate to replace former Representative Anthony D. Weiner in a special election on Sept. 13, is a Modern Orthodox Jew who keeps kosher, observes Shabbos and has been to Israel at least eight times. So it comes as a surprise that, at this early stage of the short campaign, New York’s Ninth Congressional District finds itself talking about an unlikely subject – whether Mr. Weprin, who is unabashedly pro-Israel, is the best pro-Israel advocate.

Just as a May special election in a conservative district of western New York turned into an unexpected referendum on the Republican Party’s proposals about Medicare, the coming special election in a heavily Jewish district of Brooklyn and Queens is, at least for that district, emerging as a potential referendum on President Obama‘s proposals about the Middle East.

“It will be a one-upsmanship on who is more pro-Israel,” said Chris Malone, an associate professor of political science at Pace University.

On Monday, former Mayor Edward I. Koch, a Democrat, endorsed the Republican candidate in the race, Bob Turner, a retired cable television executive, at a press conference at which he stood next to an Israeli flag. Mr. Koch has acknowledged that Mr. Weprin is a strong supporter of Israel, but argued that the election of Mr. Turner would serve as a rebuke to Mr. Obama for saying that Israel’s pre-1967 border should be the basis for a peace agreement.

Both Mr. Weprin, 55, and Mr. Turner, 70, have criticized the president’s position on Israel, and both promote their support for Israel on their campaign Web sites.

But Mr. Koch said that although he and Mr. Weprin had similar political ideals, he had concluded that Mr. Weprin could not be “an effective messenger” to Mr. Obama.

“I said to him that it’s not a personal matter, but I want you to understand that it’s an issue that’s bigger than you and that’s bigger than me,” Mr. Koch said. “The president is not likely to be offended or feel threatened by David Weprin, Democrat from Queens, saying something critical of him.”

What did Mr. Weprin think of the former mayor’s concern? “My first thought is to quote one of Mayor Koch’s famous lines: ‘That’s ridiculous!’ It’s just absurd.”

Mr. Weprin and Mr. Turner are vying to represent a New York City district that includes Forest Hills and Kew Gardens in Queens, as well as parts of Flatbush and Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn. The district is about one-quarter Jewish.

And Jewish voters are expected to be particularly important in the special election, which is likely to have low turnout, said Jerry Skurnik, a partner at Prime New York, a political consulting firm. Mr. Skurnik said that Jewish voters tended to vote in higher percentages than the general population, and he estimated that Jewish voters made up 30 percent to 35 percent of active voters in the district.

“You definitely can’t get wiped out in the Jewish vote and expect to win a district like this,” Mr. Skurnik said.

The district is solidly Democratic, but conservative by New York standards, and Mr. Turner won 40 percent of the vote when he ran against Mr. Weiner in 2010.

Assemblyman Weprin’s relationship with elements of the district’s diverse Jewish community is also complicated by his vote in Albany in favor of the legalization of same-gender marriage.

Dovid Z. Schwartz, an Orthodox Jewish activist from Kew Gardens, said of Mr. Weprin’s same-gender marriage vote, “To the mind of many people, the vote itself was the point of no return.” And Mr. Schwartz also argued that because Mr. Weprin is a “career political insider” and of the same party as Mr. Obama, he could not be a “fierce advocate” pushing back against the president’s Middle East policy.

“A vote against David Weprin would send a clear message to the administration that they cannot take the Jewish vote for granted,” Mr. Schwartz said.

But the Weprin campaign argued that Mr. Obama would be more likely to listen to criticism of his Israel position from a fellow Democrat. “If voters want to send a message to the president, they won’t do it by sending another rank-and-file Tea Party extremist Republican to Congress,” Mr. Weprin’s campaign manager, Jake Dilemani, said.

Mr. Weprin is supported by the Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, also an Orthodox Jew, who said Israel was “the No. 1 concern among Jewish voters.” But Mr. Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, dismissed the strategy of voting for Mr. Turner to send a message to Mr. Obama as “a political game.”

“The record of David Weprin is such that there’s no choice,” he said.

Cynthia Zalisky, the executive director of the Queens Jewish Community Council, called the candidates “admirable,” but said that “how these candidates feel about Israel and the president’s concept of pre-1967 borders is going to resonate in this district.”

Both Mr. Turner and Mr. Weprin’s camps are trying to play down the importance of Israel as a campaign issue, while simultaneously burnishing their credentials on Israel.

In an e-mail, Mr. Turner’s campaign said its candidate was focused on “getting our economy moving again and creating jobs,” but it criticized Mr. Obama as being “no friend to Israel.”

Asked whether there was any difference between Mr. Turner and Mr. Weprin on Israel, Mr. Turner’s spokesman said: “David Weprin walks the party line. Israel is our strongest ally in the Middle East, and it is morally and historically wrong – and strategically unwise – to blame Israel for the lack of peace with the Palestinians. That is what President Obama has done, and David Weprin hasn’t said a peep about it.”

In a phone interview, Mr. Weprin said, “It is very important that the United States maintains that very special relationship they have with Israel, and I would be a strong advocate for that.”

When Mr. Weprin spoke to a senior center in Queens last week, he addressed his position on Israel, but fielded more questions on financial matters.

“Everybody’s mind is on the budget, the deficit, the debt ceiling, which we’re backing up against, and the potential cutting of Medicare and Social Security,” he said. “I would say Medicare and Social Security cross all boundaries, all ethnic boundaries, and even all age groups.”

Dr. Malone, the Pace political scientist, predicted that other issues would indeed emerge in the campaign, but said the importance of the Jewish vote would remain.

“There’s bigger fish to fry,” he said, “as long as they’re fried kosher.”

{NY Times/Matzav.com Newscenter}


  1. Weprin is a classic tax & spend Liberal. He has always been a Democrat “YES” man with no backbone to make his own decisions! I thought Obama & the Democrats were going to bring “change” to this once, great country!
    Bob Turner is right man for Congress! Let’s vote him in overwhelmingly & send a strong message to the Liberal Democrat party, that our vote is not for sale!

  2. Hey anonymous, #2, you’re reminding us of the Koch era! Thanks! Forgot that favorite line of his! Do you remember his often saying, or singing his monotone tune, “So how am I doing?”