Between the Party Lines: The Competing Narratives of the 9th Congressional District Race

Between the Party Lines: The Competing Narratives of the 9th Congressional District Race

September 17, 2011 at 1:42 pm

Democrat David Weprin lost to Republican Bob Turner in a special election Tuesday for control of the 9th Congressional District. G.O.P. Flickr/lancmanoffice (left) and AP/Mary Altaffer Sin(right).

Since Tuesday, when the Democrats lost the congressional seat formerly held by disgraced ex-pol Anthony Weiner, wide-ranging speculation has been put forth by analysts about why Republican Bob Turner triumphed over seeming shoe-in Democratic Assemblyman David Weprin, and what that meant for the near-future of American politics.

Some said the Democrat’s loss of the Ninth Congressional District seat (the district hadn’t elected a Republican representative since 1922!) was an indicator that President Barack Obama will not be re-elected in 2012; some placed the blame squarely on Queens Democratic leader Joe Crowley for picking a weak candidate; some said it was all about Israel.

“People have given so many bizarre reasons as to why Weprin lost, but it’s a number of complicated reasons…To quote Tip O’Neill, ‘all politics is local.’ There was a lot of local factors that lead to this,” Karen Dewitt of New York State Public Radio said Friday during a round-table discussion on New York NOW. “But the national narrative is ‘it was because of Obama,’ and that’s sort of becoming the truth because people are saying it,”

DeWitt said she thought that the largely Orthodox Jewish population in the district, much of it angry over the legalization of same-sex marriage (at the local level) and Obama’s position on Israel (at the national level), wanted to send a message to the Democrats.

Ken Lovett, bureau chief for the Daily News, said he believed Obama’s low approval ratings truly did have an impact, but assigned the greatest blame to what he called a poorly run campaign by Weprin.


New York NOW roundtable on the causes and effects of the Turner win. Video courtesy of WMHT.

Doug Muzzio, co-director of Baruch College’s Center for the Study of Innovation and Leadership in Government and a specialist in American public opinion, voting behavior and city politics, believed the Democratic loss was a combination of all of the above.

He said that a “prevalent anti-Obama, anti-Democratic sentiment gripped the public in the weeks before the vote, priming the public for a Howard Beale ‘mad as hell‘ vote.” Muzzio also blamed the Parkside Group, Weprin’s political consultants. He said they ran a fumbling campaign and essentially “mailed it in.”

Muzzio also pointed the finger at former Mayor Ed Koch, Assemblyman Dov Hikind and Donald Trump, calling them “egotists, flakes and political spotlight-seekers” who gave Turner’s campaign increased visibility, media attention and legitimacy among some Democratic (as well as Republican and independent) voters.