New York – The Jewish Press endorses David Weprin in the September 13 special election to fill the Congressional seat vacated by Anthony Weiner. Mr. Weprin, a Democrat, is currently a New York State assemblyman and was formerly a member of the New York City Council where he served as chairman of its finance committee.
He has a long record of standing up for the interests of his constituents in terms of child care, health care, senior care, etc., and has always impressed us with his understanding of the special needs of the Orthodox community’s broad array of voluntary social service safety networks. And while he has had no direct responsibilities relating to the State of Israel (as a congressman he would), there are few public officials who have expressed themselves more forcefully on Israel’s behalf.
So we have no hesitation in saying he would easily meet the checklist of most voters. This is especially true given the growing need to cut government spending – he argues for cuts over time and increasing taxes in the highest brackets – and the inevitable concomitant competition for ever-diminishing resources. And given the mindset of President Obama when it comes to the Middle East, there has never been a greater need for people in Congress who fully appreciate the longstanding special relationship between the U.S. and Israel.
But in this particular race, that cannot be the end of the inquiry. There are those who argue that there are at least three separate considerations that trump the usual areas of concern. Some, like former New York City mayor Ed Koch, say it is important to elect a Republican to fill the traditionally Democratic 9th CD seat (once held by Senator Chuck Schumer) in order to send a message to President Obama vis-à-vis his Mideast policy. Others cite Mr. Weprin’s fulsome support for the recently enacted state law authorizing same-sex marriage as a reason not to vote for him. Still others call attention to Mr. Weprin’s supposed support for the Ground Zero Mosque. These are not matters that can be summarily dismissed.
Mr. Weprin’s opponent in the race is Republican Bob Turner, a retired communications industry executive. Preliminarily, Mr. Turner has advocated a prompt 35 percent cut in government spending without any new taxes, but insists this would not necessarily impact significantly on the lives of those who depend on such government funds, particularly Social Security and Medicare. We don’t usually agree with The New York Times, but here is its editorial reaction: “That would take a magician, not a businessman.”
Given his overarching negative view of government spending, it is hard to imagine Bob Turner going to bat as strongly as David Weprin in any struggle for funds to minimize the impact of government cutbacks on the 9th CD. Indeed, we were troubled on this score by Mr. Turner’s opposition – apparently in the interest of budget cutting – to including volunteer responders together with uniformed responders in the aftermath of 9/11 in an omnibus compensation law for responders who suffered injuries and illnesses.
Mr. Turner says he is a staunch supporter of Israel and we certainly take him at his word. Yet, as noted above, Mr. Weprin has throughout his long public career taken strongly pro-Israel positions. So we don’t quite understand Ed Koch’s notion that by electing a Republican over a pro-Israel Democrat, voters in the 9th CD would be sending Mr. Obama a message to be more supportive of Israel.
While there have been several critical rabbinic pronouncements regarding Mr. Weprin’s support for New York’s same-sex marriage legislation, by no means has there been an emergent consensus that this should drive voter choice. Under the circumstances, while we disagree with Mr. Weprin’s stance on this matter, we do not believe it should trump all other vital issues affecting the everyday lives of New York Jews.
Further, we urge voters keep in mind that the notion that elected officials must take positions tracking the tenets of their faith is not something that is necessarily good for a Jewish minority in a predominantly Christian country. Our sad experience with the Sunday blue laws comes readily to mind.
Mr. Turner has attacked Mr. Weprin for being on the wrong side of the ground zero mosque debate. He says Mr. Weprin supported building the mosque on ground zero. However, any review of the record shows that Mr. Weprin said that while the sponsors of the mosque had a legal right to build, it would be a good idea if they looked elsewhere. The First Amendment requires no less.
On balance, we believe David Weprin is the better choice for Congress in the 9th Congressional District.