Last year, the Democrats won a series of special elections before the big Republican sweep in November. The Democrats saw this as symbolic, and thought that the big midterm elections were not going to be too difficult because of the foreshadowing of those special elections. They were wrong. Symbolism is not always real. Sometimes an election is just an election.
Was Bob Turner’s win last week in the 9th Congressional District symbolic of the national mood? I would argue that it was not indicative of a general dissatisfaction with the president. It was, however, symbolic of the way the district gets taken for granted.
Safe districts – the ones that always go to a single party – are not always safe. Political parties have become weaker in the United States, and their influence is less of a deciding factor. Campaigns are more focused on the candidates.
In the 9th District, Turner was better for the voters than Weprin. The Democratic Party is still a powerhouse in the 9th, but the symbolism of his victory is that candidates matter. This is good news because it means that voters are paying attention to both sides, even in special elections.
A similar election like this occurred last year in Alaska’s first district. Charles Dijou, a Republican, won a seat in the heavily Democratic state. Dijou went on to lose the seat in a general election a year later.
Turner’s win is more significant than Dijou’s victory. Dijou won because there was a disagreement between the Democrats on who should have been their nominee. The Democrats in Queens, however, were all in line with supporting Weprin. Sure, there were citywide Democrats who jumped ship, but geographically, they were all on board with Weprin. Turner actually won this seat against a united Democratic front, and that is very symbolic.
The other thing that might be significant is that Americans are less inclined to support political families. The Bushes and Kennedys are political families, and so are the Weprins in New York. This may have hurt Weprin’s effort.
The Democrats went with Weprin, perhaps wisely, because they felt that he best reflected former congressman Anthony Weiner’s values. The district, before Weiner’s storied exit, liked those values for the most part. Weprin was a safe bet for party chair Joe Crowley. This means that Turner’s win was earned, as most are in this part of Queens.
What happens next for this district? Most likely the district will be split into two districts. At that point there will be heavy interest by neighboring Democrats to fill at least one of those seats. There is always talk about State Senator Joseph Addabbo, Jr. jumping into a congressional race (that talk happens on this page a good amount of the time). And Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi may have an interest in running for congress.
What nobody ever mentions, however, is how Turner might have some staying power in a redrawn district. To count him out would be a mistake.
Does the GOP have a bullpen of candidates for upcoming races? The party has a few strong names they would be wise to build around.
Juan Reyes of Forest Hills and Dennis Saffran of Bayside are pragmatic potential candidates. And the party needs to be thinking about the next good step for Councilman Eric Ulrich. They cannot afford to waste these guys.
The Republicans won by doing everything right in this election with Turner. Now they need to repeat that process. The city needs at least two vibrant parties to provide the best checks and balances necessary for effective government.