The September 13 special election between Democratic Assemblyman David Weprin and retired media executive Robert Turner, the Republican, to fill the Congressional seat vacated by Anthony Weiner ended in a stunning upset, with the Associated Press calling the race for the GOP candidate just before midnight, with more than 70 percent of precincts counted and Turner ahead by six percent.
The race drew national attention among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender political observers when the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), a conservative group that opposes same-sex marriage, spent at least $49,000 in independent expenditures that paid for direct mail and robocalls to voters opposing Weprin because he supported gay marriage in the State Assembly. Weprin established a pro-gay record in the Assembly and earlier in the New York City Council.
The NOM robocalls included messages from State Senator Ruben Diaz, a Bronx Democrat and a Pentecostal minister, as well as a senior rabbi in Brooklyn’s Jewish community.
Some leading Republicans posited the race as a referendum on President Barack Obama and his performance on the economy and treatment of Israel.
Former Democratic Mayor Ed Koch made a big show of crossing party lines –– something he has actually done on numerous occasions –– to back Turner, saying his election would send a message to Obama that the US must strengthen its commitment to Israel.
Among gay groups, Weprin, 55, was backed by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the Washington gay lobby, which donated $5,000 to the Democrat.
“We will be working to activate HRC members to volunteer and vote for Weprin,” Brian Ellner, a senior strategist at HRC, told Gay City News, adding that Weprin is “a strong supporter of LGBT rights and marriage equality.”
Three gay political groups, the Lesbian & Gay Democratic Club of Queens, the Lambda Independent Democrats of Brooklyn, and the Stonewall Democrats, held a fundraiser for Weprin, and Lambda solicited volunteer support for the candidate. Erin Drinkwater, a Lambda vice president, told Gay City News, “Going into 2012, it would be a huge problem to give the GOP or Tea Party any momentum.”
In an op ed published online at gaycitynews.com, titled “The Race in the 9th Is About The Economy –– Not Israel or Gay Marriage,” Matthew McMorrow, Lambda’s co-president, wrote that Koch’s focus on Israel and NOM’s effort to make Weprin’s marriage vote an issue were “red herrings.”
“If Brooklyn and Queens voters want to use this race to send a real message, let it be a rebuke of the radical and reckless Republican members of Congress who have damaged our nation’s credit rating, refused to compromise, and advocated for the dismantling of our nation’s services… without entertaining even the most modest proposals to increase revenue or to implement fairness in the tax code,” McMorrow wrote, voicing familiar Democratic Party arguments.
Weprin was endorsed by leading Democrats, liberal groups, and openly gay pols Christine Quinn, the City Council speaker, State Senator Thomas Duane, and Daniel Dromm, a city councilman who represents Jackson Heights in Queens. Duane and Quinn represent Chelsea.
The 9th Congressional district seat, which includes parts of Queens and Brooklyn, opened up when Anthony Weiner resigned during a sex scandal earlier this year. The special election to fill the seat was notable for its low turnout and generally low visibility, despite the national groups that participated in the race.
Weprin ran on the Democratic, the union-backed Working Families Party, and Independence Party lines, while Turner ran on the Republican and Conservative party lines.
Through August 24, Weprin raised nearly $451,000 and spent $248,400. He had $202,000 in cash. Turner raised $204,000 and spent $119,000 through that date. He had $94,000 in cash and a $65,500 debt.
Turner, 70, won 40 percent of the vote against Weiner in 2010 in the heavily Democratic district. Turner is a retired TV executive who produced talks shows hosted by Jerry Springer and Phil Donahue, as well as Rush Limbaugh’s short-lived TV program.
Weprin angered some gay leaders when he told Jewish Voz Iz Neias (VIN) News Service on July 28 that “there should be investigations” into possible procedural irregularities in the June 24 state Senate vote on same-sex marriage. Some opponents of the law charged in a lawsuit that the Senate Republican conference, which is not subject to the state Open Meetings Law, violated that law when it declined to meet with marriage opponents.
“People have to feel that there was a fair process,” Weprin told VIN, “that the vote took place without coercion.”
In response, Duane initially took his name off of a Weprin fundraiser because of the VIN interview, as did the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, a gay political club.
Duane reversed course telling Politicker, “We all make mistakes and we all say things we wish we hadn’t. I am cutting him some slack.”
Allen Roskoff, president of Jim Owles, also had a change of heart, saying it is “obvious that people should be voting for Weprin when the choice is between him and a conservative Republican.” –– Additional reporting by Andy Humm and Paul Schindler