Assemblyman David Weprin is blaming President Obama for his stunning 54–46 percent loss to former television executive Bob Turner on Tuesday, claiming that he would have won the southern Brooklyn district if the Commander in Chief was doing a better job — yet many say the Democrat sunk his own ship with several campaign missteps, as well as his refusal to shave off his 1970s-style mustache.
“[The election] turned into a referendum of the President and I was an unfortunate consequence,” Weprin (D–Queens) said during a Monday-morning quarterbacking session with this paper on Wednesday. “If this election happened when the president’s poll results were better, I could have turned this around.”
It would have been quite a feat: Weprin lost the Brooklyn side of the bi-borough district — with just 33 percent of borough voters pulling the lever for him — in the fight for disgraced Rep. Anthony Weiner’s seat. As the final numbers were tallied, Weprin was trailing by more than 4,000 votes on both sides of the district.
Weprin called Turner to concede the special election and congratulate his opponent on Wednesday morning. The victor acknowledged the President’s role in the election, according to Turner.
“He said ‘The election wasn’t about you or me. It was beyond both of us.’ ” Weprin recalled.
Calls to the Turner campaign were not returned on Wednesday, but during his victory speech, Turner said his win proved that voters have “had it” with the President’s “irresponsible fiscal policies” and his “treatment of Israel.”
“This is an historic race,” Turner told his supporters after claiming victory. “We’ve been asked by the people of this district to send a message to Washington — and I hope they hear it loud and clear: Mr. President, we are on the wrong track.”
The Obama-baiting began in late July when former Mayor Ed Koch, a Democrat who frequently endorses republicans, announced he was backing Turner as a backhand slap to Obama’s claims that Israel should withdraw to its pre-1967 borders and give some of its land back to the Palestinians.
Koch’s endorsement marked the beginning of the GOP’s push to connect Weprin to Obama at every turn. For the next month and a half, nearly all of Turner’s campaign literature had pictures of Obama.
“American families are worse off now than they were two years ago, thanks to the failed leadership of President Obama and politicians like David Weprin,” one flier read.
The voters apparently believed the hype: more than 60,000 people turned out to vote, a surprising turn in a special election expected to generate low numbers and be decided by party loyalists. There are three Democrats for every Republican in district, so many thought a Weprin victory was assured. Comparatively, just over 110,000 district residents voted in the 2010 election, where Weiner defeated Turner’s first bid for the House of Representatives and several state elections — including the race for governor — were on the ballot.
Weprin staffers say campaign polls show that the President’s shadow loomed over the election, but many Brooklynites say that Weprin was to blame — not Obama.
Chaim Deutsch, president of the Flatbush Shomrim patrol, said Orthodox Jewish voters were outraged that Weprin — an Orthodox Jew himself — voted for gay marriage earlier this year.
“This race was less about Turner and more about gay marriage,” Deutsch said. “[Weprin] not only voted for gay marriage, but he posed with them and went to the gay pride parade. He went out of his way to show that he supported gay marriage, that’s why Orthodox residents went against him.”
Councilman Lew Fidler (D–Marine Park) said the Assemblyman was facing a “perfect storm” of problems on election night — the largest being that no one in the borough knew him.
“Coming into this election, Weprin had close to zero name recognition in Brooklyn,” said Fidler. “Turner put him on the defensive at day one, so his campaign never established any credibility. They skipped that step.”
Sheepshead Bay Democratic District Leader Michael Gellar said that when Weprin did focus on the issues, he spoke about how the GOP-controlled Congress wanted to cut Social Security and Medicare — subjects that voters quickly tuned out.
“[Weprin] kept carrying on that Turner wanted to get rid of Medicare and Social Security. That would have worked a few months earlier when it was in the news — like it did when [Democrat] Kathy Hocul won a Republican seat upstate,” said Gellar. “But that was a one trick pony you can’t use over and over. People will start to resent you for it.”
Another problem was as clear as the mustache on Weprin’s face — the Assemblyman should have shaved his ’stache, Gellar said.
“Politicians usually don’t have facial hair, because it looks like you’re hiding something,” Gellar explained. “Mustaches and beards stop people from seeing the real you.”