It sounded improbable on the surface that a New York City congressional district where Democrats have a 3-1 registration edge and have held office for nearly a century could even come close to electing a Republican to the U.S. House.
But the Republican, Bob Turner, a retired cable television executive, defeated Assemblyman David I. Weprin, the scion of a prominent Democratic family in Queens, in a nationally watched special election. Turner said as much when he stepped before cameras to claim victory Tuesday night.
“This message will resound for a full year. It will resound into 2012,” said Turner, a retired broadcasting executive. “I only hope our voices are heard, and we can start putting things right again.”
Republicans, for their part, seized on Turner’s win as reason to push back on Obama’s proposed $447 billion jobs program, which he has been promoting at stops across the country.
“Tonight New Yorkers have delivered a strong warning to the Democrats who control the levers of power in our federal government,” House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement. “It’s time to scrap the failed `stimulus’ agenda.”
Mr. Turner will become the first Republican since 1920 elected to represent the Ninth Congressional District, which now stretches from the Rockaways to Forest Hills and encompasses a swath of middle-class and working-class neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens.
The district is predominantly white and has long been known for its large Jewish population, though it has become increasingly diverse in recent years.
Turner, a 70-year-old Catholic, vowed to push back on Obama’s policies if elected. He received help from prominent Republicans including former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, whose much-praised stewardship of the city after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks was recalled during the 10th anniversary of the attacks last weekend.
Weprin, a 56-year-old Orthodox Jew and member of a prominent Queens political family, initially seemed a good fit for the largely white, working-class district, which is nearly 40 percent Jewish.
But Mr. Turner capitalized on discontent in some corners of the Jewish community with Mr. Obama’s posture toward Israel and his handling of the Middle East peace process. Former Mayor Edward I. Koch, a Democrat, urged voters to rebuke the president by voting for Mr. Turner.
But Mr. Weprin’s support in the Orthodox community had already been weakened by his vote to legalize same-sex marriage, and several voters interviewed on Tuesday said the Israel issue was a major factor in their decision to support Mr. Turner, who is Roman Catholic. Mr. Turner repeatedly criticized Mr. Obama on Israel.
Mr. Weprin’s campaign made a central issue out of the future of federal entitlement programs, persuading voters like John Doherty, 64, a Democrat from Middle Village, Queens, to worry about whether Mr. Turner would favor deep cuts.
The campaign was short — Mr. Weprin and Mr. Turner were chosen as nominees by their respective parties in early July — and attracted little attention or money for many weeks. As it became clear, however, that Mr. Turner might win, Mr. Weprin received a cash infusion from national Democrats, who spent more than $600,000 on television advertisements criticizing Mr. Turner.
Mr. Weprin had also raised significantly more money than Mr. Turner and had the assistance of labor unions and strong local party organizations. Also Tuesday, Republican Mark Amodei won a landslide victory in a U.S. House special election in Nevada, an important presidential swing state.
The national mood has darkened since May, when Democrats scored their own unexpected win in another New York special election. Then, Democrat Kathy Hochul won an upset victory in a heavily Republican district by stressing her commitment to protecting Medicare, the government health plan for seniors. Democratic leaders trying to explain their bad night blamed it on the quirkiness of low-turnout special elections.
“The results in NY-09 are not reflective of what will happen in November 2012 when Democratic challengers run against Republican incumbents who voted to end Medicare and cut Social Security while protecting tax loopholes for big corporations and the ultra wealthy,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel of New York. [via The New York Times and Huff Post]