Former mayor Ed Koch stunned Democrats when he threw his support behind Bob Turner, the Republican candidate running against Democrat and current assemblyman David Weprin in the special election for the 9th Congressional District seat.
Even in the overwhelmingly Democratic world of New York City politics, it's not unheard of for Democrats to cross party lines and endorse a Republican. In fact, it happened in the last mayoral race, when Democrats like Councilman Peter Vallone, Jr. of Queens and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz broke with their own party and endorsed Mayor Michael Bloomberg over fellow Democratic challenger Bill Thompson.
But Bloomberg was an established political force in the city, even if his popularity diminished when he decided to run for a third term. In Koch's case, he has decided to back a relative unknown and a political newcomer over Weprin, a former City Council member with an established political record. A risky move that could permanently tarnish Koch's own political legacy.
Koch said in endorsing Turner that by sending a Republican to congress from this district - which has elected a Democrat in every election since the 1920s - would send a message to President Barack Obama that the Democratic Party doesn't have Jewish voters in its back pocket, and that Democrats, especially Obama, will be forced to backtrack some on what Koch views as the president's misguided policies on Israel.
Koch also praised Turner for his support for programs like Medicare and Social Security, which are under attack from Turner's own party. He said Turner could work from inside his own party as an advocate for those programs.
As we proceed, keep in mind that this is not an endorsement for either Weprin or Turner, we'll make our endorsement as the date of the special election nears. This is merely an analysis of Koch's failed reasoning in making the bold move to endorse Turner.
First, Weprin shares the same views as Turner on Israel, and is himself an Orthodox Jew. We don't think voters are going to be persuaded to "symbolically" vote for the Republican candidate because Koch assures them it will pressure Obama to change his attitude toward Israel, especially when the Democrat in the race already has a connection with the Jewish community and shares their religion.
Second, by the time Turner or Weprin gets to Washington, D.C., the issues surrounding the budget will largely already be worked out (we hope!), and whichever of the two is elected will not be able to influence the process. The fate of the entitlement programs that Koch is so worried about will already be decided by the time either candidate actually gets to Congress.
And lastly, is a freshman member of the House of Representatives from a district that is likely going to be eliminated in a little over a year going to wield any influence on major decisions? The answer to that, sadly, in this world of partisan politics where votes are traded for future favors and not on the merits of the issues, is a resounding “no.”
Again, this is not an endorsement of either Turner or Weprin, we will make our endorsement after we have sat down with both candidates. But unlike Koch, our endorsement won't be so blatantly about pushing our own agendas and keeping ourselves in the political spotlight, and instead about who will best represent the voters of the 9th Congressional District, however long that might be.