*** “Revenge of the Jews” was the Drudge Report’s headline, but what really happened last night in New York? This is my on the scene report of the special election in New York’s 9th Congressional District***
Posted By Max Viscio
I get there around 9:10, about twenty minutes before the event is scheduled to begin and ten minutes after the polls closed, and already there are throngs of supporters and media outside the campaign headquarters. The mood seems optimistic, with one supporter proudly saying to anyone who’d listen “We’re gonna have a victory party tonight!” A few minutes after I arrived the candidate himself, Bob Turner, appears coming out of a black SUV and slipping behind the doors of his HQ. Bob Turner is a businessman and political novice who ran against Anthony Wiener in 2010, losing by 20 percentage points. At around 9:45 Rep. Pete King, the chairman of the Homeland Security committee, exits from campaign HQ and briefly speaks to a reporter before heading off to the catering hall next door where the rally is to be held. He says that the early returns look good but it’s still too soon to declare victory. A few minutes later former Mayor Ed Koch arrives and gets a great reaction from the crowd, with many shouting “Thanks, Ed!” Mayor Koch, though a Democrat, is a living legend in New York and his endorsement provided a big boost to Turner’s campaign in this district where Democrats outnumber Republicans 3 to 1. The seat has been in Democratic hands since 1923 and has had notable Representatives including 1984 Vice-Presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro and now Senator Chuck Schumer. This made it all the more confusing when after the results were announced DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Shultz said this was a “very tough district for Democrats.”
The first person I decide to speak with does not turn out to be a voter. She is Turner’s son-in-law’s mother. Obviously she’s an enthusiastic supporter and praises Turner for running a positive campaign while bashing Weprin for going negative. Not exactly what I’m looking for, but it’s good to know that Turner is on good terms with his in-laws.
At around 9:50 his spokesman comes out of the HQ and tries to convince the large group of supporters who remained outside to go to the catering hall next door with promises of free food and drink. This is a surprisingly good technique and within minutes mostly everyone is inside the Roma View Catering Hall. Some supporters are dismayed to find that though the food and soda are free, the booze is not. But any disappointment in the price of the refreshments, which are still a bargain by New York standards, is erased by the posting of the first results that show Turner ahead in the handful of precincts that are reporting.
At around 1015 Pete King takes the stage and introduces the first speaker, Ed Koch. Once again the Democrat gets an enthusiastic reception from the Republican crowd. Tonight he’s especially critical of President Obama’s Middle East policy, charging that Obama “Threw Israel under the bus!” I looked around to notice the large number of Jewish supporters in attendance. To quote Ben Smith of Politico, “I’ve never been to a Republican victory party (or any event in Howard Beach!) where black velvet yarmulkes were as plentiful as they were at Bob Turner’s.” This district is almost a third Jewish by population, a demographic that often goes heavily Democratic, and it seems surprising that Weprin, who is Jewish himself, is trailing so badly in that regard. Koch then goes on to talk about how Social Security and Medicare need to remain government programs and not be privatized, which understandably dampens the conservative crowd’s enthusiasm. However when he turns to the topic of keeping these programs solvent the crowd goes wild once again.
After Koch, the chairmen of the Conservative and Republican parties take the podium. The Conservative Party is unusual among state parties for its influence over elections at the local and sometimes even the national level. Formed by Republicans who were dissatisfied with the direction of the state GOP, the Conservative Party of New York often fields its own candidates when it feels that the Republican nominee is too liberal. But more often than not it endorses the Republican candidate so the typical situation is that the same candidate is running on multiple ballot lines.
The Conservative Party chairman is warmly received as he rails against the Obama administration, saying ” Mr President I am calling you to hear what the people of the 9th CD have said tonight: stop the silliness and get American back on track!”
The reaction to the state GOP chairman, however, is not nearly as enthusiastic. Though he does seem to lack the charisma of the preceding speakers, a more pertinent reason for the cool response is that among the conservative grassroots in NY there’s a lot of animosity towards the state party for its apparent incompetence. In particular, the failure to take advantage of the wave election of 2010 and the nomination of candidates like Carl Paladino and Dede Scozzafava still don’t sit well with this crowd. Many in the room are glad the state party did not play a large role in the campaign, with one Turner supporter telling me “that’s why Turner’s winning.”
Overall it seems that the election is not about Weprin or Turner as candidates but rather a general dissatisfaction with President Obama. He won the district with 55% in 2008, but a recent Public Policy poll had his approval there in the low thirties. The Drudge Report’s headline of “Revenge of the Jews” (which by way sounds like an awesome movie co-directed by Quentin Tarantino and Mel Brooks), is an over the top yet partially accurate statement on the political situation in this district. There is an Israeli flag displayed prominently on stage and President Obama’s actions with regards to Israel, particularly the issue with the 1967 borders, has hurt him among the Jewish voters I’ve seen tonight. Does this mean that Rick Perry could take Manhattan in 2012? Probably not, but now the President has to start shoring up support with some of his core constituencies in addition to regaining independents if he wants to be reelected.
As the night goes on and the results come in its becoming clear that Turner is going to win. He’s tied in Weprin’s stronghold in Queens and trouncing him 3 to 1 in Brooklyn. As midnight approaches there’s an impatience among the media and the bloggers (myself included) for the AP to call the election. At exactly mid-night the news breaks that the Turner is projected to win and cheers erupt from the crowd. Frank Sinatra singing “New York, New York” blasts from the speakers as Turner takes a call from House Speaker John Boehner. I manage to fight my way to the front of the crowd where I found myself once again next to his son-in-law’s mother. She’s fighting with the cameramen and telling her son “Smile! Smile!” Turner gives a brief speech, thanks his supporters and promises to get right to work on Thursday.
As I exit the event I snap a photo of this Tea Party car as I try to find my way out of Queens.