A Simple Twisted Cross of Fate
As I noted last fall while sifting through the vat of offal known as the Comptroller’s race, Councilman (as he was then) David Weprin, never bunched my panties. He reminded me of Rupert Pupkin in “The King of Comedy;” and came off as a parochial outer-borough pol, utterly lacking in vision, who appeared poised to restore the model of Abe Beame. It was one thing to hear him in front of a southern Brooklyn political club complaining about the possibity of congestion pricing--quite another to hear him whining about the potential inconveniences which might be caused by “The Bigger Better Bottle Bill.”But perhaps I’ve been unfair, though by all appearances the nerdiest man ever to claim Latino origin (his mother is from Cuba, making his Latin credentials far more impressive than those of Vito Lopez), as this link shows he can shake his stuff when necessary. Though a modern Orthodox Jew who keeps his head covered at all times with a scheitl, he is clearly as comfortable cutting a rug as he is in wearing one.
Weprin is almost the political step-son of former Governor Mario, who made him Deputy Banking Commissioner when he was a 20-something child of virtually the only outer-borough Jewish state legislator to support him in the 1982 Governor’s primary against Ed Koch. Cuomo Sr. later made Weprin Sr. (AKA Saul) the Assembly Speaker.
Clearly David Weprin, and his younger brother, Councilman Mark, are destined for greater things in the likely Cuomo years to come; but as Mario used to say, “between now and then a Pope could be born.” As such, the Weprins continue to do what they‘ve always done, which is to run for Assembly seat from 24th AD, recently vacated by Mark, and held by Weprin’s since 1971. The election is Tuesday and David is the Democratic candidate.
Though, as a former Deputy State Commissioner and, until recently, the Finance Chair of the City Council, Weprin’s credentials for office make him almost absurdly overqualified to be an Assembly backbencher, I would normally not find the question of whether he gets to help keep Shelly Silver’s preposterously over-inflated majority intact as being worth thirteen seconds of the time I could be spending losing chess games to my seven year old.
In this case, though, the race may help hold the key to the crucial question of whether the State Senate Democrats will be capable of achieving an Amigo-Proof majority going into reapportionment. In other words, ii may indirectly be of national significance, and the Senate Republicans have taken an interest in this race.
Normally, a Republican Assembly candidate would be of no interest to the Senate Republicans, except as a farm team to develop talent for the Senate. The only real interest the Senate Republicans have are in matters related to the seats which they hold, or they would like to hold, and in the Mayor who finances their candidates for such seats.
The Senate Republicans have a symbiotic relationship with the Mayor, to whose campaigns he funnels money, both directly and through laundering second only to the WFP in its clever resourcefulness. Bloomberg money, in all its varied manifestations, is third only to Senate Democratic disorder and Gubernatorial incompetence in keeping the hopes of the Senate Republicans alive. And the Senate Republicans and their resources were second only to Bloomberg cash, in all its manifestations, in delivering to Bloomberg the Republican nomination.
In recent years, the preferred Republican strategy for Assembly races in Queens has been the sacrifice bunt. In 2008, the Queens Republicans failed to nominate their own candidate for Assembly in 14 of the County’s 18 seats.
Not coincidentally, Queens also accounts for 2 of the City’s three Republican Senators, both of whom faced stiff challenges, and in 2008, there was also a Republican (Peter Koo) challenging a Democratic incumbent (Toby Stavisky) who was making more than a token effort. The massive abstention in Republican participation in Queens Assembly races was, in large part, an effort to not stir up too much action among the local Democrats whose seats overlapped the Senate races the Republicans were interested in.
But there is a flip side. The Senate Republicans do have an interest in party building in those Senate Districts, and will work hard for local candidates in those areas (and seemingly only in those areas) when such work does not have the potential to negatively impact their Senate candidates.
Hence, last year’s Council races.
It is instructive that all of the Queens Republicans who won or made strong races for the City Council were all running in districts which overlapped seats held by Republican Senators or were recently so and are now Republican targets.
Two of last year’s races overlapped the Senate seat held until 2008 by Republican Senator Serph Maltese and now held by Democrat Joe Addabbo.
In the Rockaways and Howard Beach, the Republican was their then accidental incumbent, Eric Ulrich, who had won his seat in a special election when Frank Galluscio, the choice of Addabbo, the Queens Democratic organization and the WFP, was knocked off the ballot for bad petitions, and his supporters decided to sit on their hands rather than to back one of the other Democrats left in the race.
In the fall, Galluscio finally got his chance to run, and he got his brains bashed in. Galluscio complained loudly after the election about efforts on behalf of his opponent by the Roman Catholic Church, and independent expenditures made on his opponent’s behalf through Bloomberg, the Independence Party and other outside sources (an ironic complaint coming from a candidate backed by the WFP). Almost overnight after the election, Joe Addabbo came out against same-sex marriage
In Ridgewood, the incumbent Democrat Elizabeth Cowley, who lost and won successive Special Elections against Anthony Como, was challenged by former Councilman Tom Ognibene. As Elizabeth is the cousin of County Leader Joe, she attracted far more Party resources than was perhaps necessary, helping to lead to disaster for both Galluscio and Democratic Council candidates in northwestern Queens.
Crowley, won, but this fall Addabbo faces a real battle against either Como or Ulrich, while many liberals will sit on their hands because of Addabbo‘s vote on same-sex marriage. (A similar phenomena is at work in Buffalo, where many liberals will sit on their hands while loyal Democrat Billy Stachowski faces both a primary from an Amigo and a tough general election against a Republican).
But it is in the Northeastern Queens district of Republican Senator Frank Padavan where manifold disasters have been plaguing the Democrats, almost all of them of their own making.
Padavan had barely held onto his seat against Democratic Councilman Jim Gennaro. Shafted by Bloomberg-laundered money and the desertions of local Democratic opportunists like Bob Friedrich, Gennaro apparently decided if you couldn’t beat ‘em, you might as well join ‘em, endorsed Bloomberg and quit running for Senate.
Democratic hopes are now pinned on either Dave Weprin, provided he wins the Assembly race, or more likely, the possibly insane, but unaccountably popular (in this area) former Councilman, Tony Avella. Avella, still licking his wound from spectacularly unsuccessful Mayor’s race (in which he carried this area) was last seen endorsing Charles Barron for Council Speaker (while refusing to endorse Bill Thompson for Mayor) and having a hissy fit when a Family Court Judge ripped up an ex parte communication Avella had inappropriately sent him about a case.
Then there were the Council races.
In the Bayside-Little Neck area of Frank Padavan’s district, Republicans had initially given up, assuming a strong conservative Democrat Council candidate like Jerry Iannece or Paul Vallone would make their efforts superfluous. Then, unexpectedly, the fragmented vote among the race’s five white candidates allowed Korean-American Kevin Kim to emerge victorious.While white voters are still predominate in the district, they are a majority on the run, and they know it. Nothing in New York City is uglier than the politics of those in a changing neighborhood trying to stop the change (except, possibly, the politics of the former majority deluded into believing they can restore the old order). Kim’s candidacy presented a godsend to the Republicans.
The problem was the Republican candidate was a great gobbling turkey. Articles in the Queens Tribune and Village Voice detailed Republican Dan Halloran’s membership in a sect variously described as Pagan or Heathen, with a tendency to prance through the forest wearing garb more suited to a Renaissance Fair than campaigning on Bell Boulevard.
Now, as a member of a pre-Christian sect myself, I felt duty bound not to dwell upon the peculiarities of others when some of my fellow chosen celebrate the New Year by swinging live poultry over their heads. Truly, there are an infinite number of ways to acknowledge the eternal, and in Dan Halloran’s case, also an infinite numbers of eternals to be acknowledged; the important thing was that he prayed early and often.
Others were not so quiet, with the Voice has encouraging speculation about Halloran’s connection to the White Supremacist wing of the Pagan/Heathen world. Nonetheless, there was absolutely no evidence that Halloran shared such despicable convictions other than the despicable campaign he ran, which amounted to saying that Kim represented the interests trying to price US out of the neighborhood by encouraging FLUSHING-style overdevelopment. Nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more.
For Dan Halloran apparently did not judge Kevin Kim by the color his skin, but rather, only by the shape of his eyeballs.
The Republicans at first attempted to get rid of Halloran, not because of his campaign’s message, which they found on-target, but because Halloran was an ineffective means for that message’s delivery. Running a campaign based upon racism normally requires the use of code words like “preserving our traditional values,“ which do not easily roll off of the tongue of a candidate who so obviously does not share them. Reverting to an even earlier pre-Christian era, the Republicans tired to replace their Pagan with a DINO, attempting to recruit Vallone, who clearly belonged in their party anyway.
In the end, Vallone did not pan out, and the Republicans, conscious of the upcoming Senate race, put all their weight and Bloomberg’s behind Halloran.
Perhaps more importantly, the Democrats responded with tactics in kind. A Catholic priest sent out a letter on Kim’s behalf attacking Halloran’s religion.
What did Frank Galluscio think about that?
One may be able to fight fire with fire, but one is probably ill-advised to attempt to fight hate with hate. Kim lost the high moral ground, and without that, and in a white majority area in the midst of a Bloomberg landslide (which it was in this area) there wasn't much else he had left.
In a felicitous concatenation of circumstances, Yen Chou, the Democrat who won a surprise victory in a crowded primary for John Liu‘s seat, as the leading Chinese candidate in a field full of Koreans, got caught after-the-fact with having run hate lit against a Jewish primary opponent (Isaac Sasoon) who’d come up with the same divide and conquer strategy to victory. Chou’s lit warned her fellow Chinese that waiting until the general to support Chinese Republican Peter Koo, rather than supporting her in the primary, was “…equivalent to indirectly giving the throne to the Jews.”
In the end, Chou’s ad not only delivered the Chinese vote to her in the primary, but the Jews and Koreans to Koo in the general. Although Koo’s seat only barely overlaps Padavan’s, he’d been the Senate Republicans’ self-financing guy in the race against Stavisky, and is now their all-round ambassador to the Asians.
The Senate Republicans also put some effort into the general election race of the aforementioned Friedrich, a Padavan Democrat who had challenged Mark Weprin in the primary as the Republican‘s Padavan supported Trojan whore. More on him in a moment.
After the fall’s disaster, local Democratic Congressman Gary Ackerman actually tried to exploit the defeats in order to raise funds off them, noting the Republican threat in the heart of his district.
Perhaps if the Congressman hadn’t been working so hard for Bloomberg’s re-election, he could have taken the edge of the down-ballot impact of the area’s Bloomberg landslide and perhaps have prevented the Republican victories. Now, recent articles about Ackerman’s seemingly seamy mixture of official business and personal finance have caused a bit of diminishment in his own luster, which might render him less useful in the fight against Padavan.
And now, the area’s Assembly seats add further insult to the injury.
The Republican strategy of sacrifice bunts in Queens Assembly races has two exceptions. Seats where the Democratic incumbent is in trouble and seats which are open.
The area now has one of each.
The Bayside-Little Neck seat is currently barely occupied by Ann Margaret Carrozza (D-Glen Head), who travels through her district every time she drives through it from her Nassau home to make her rare, but very special trips to Albany. She is badly tainted meat in a seat which Republicans once held and may soon hold again.
The prior occupant of the seat was Doug Prescott, who lost it twice before retiring.
In 1982, the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee (DACC), in an operation under the direction of Carl Kruger, dive-bombed into the district and gave aide and comfort to Frank Padavan as part of a “successful” scheme to elect Tom Duane’s brother, John, to Prescott’s seat.
Collectors of New York political memorabilia still pay valuable money for a copy of the famous photo of Kruger and his buddies proudly posed with broad smiles (a rarity for Kruger, who prefers scowling) in front of a polling place before a large sign illustrating for voters how they could vote for both Democratic Assembly candidate John Duane and Republican Senator Frank Padavan.
Sadly, this was far from being the campaign’s most despicable act, and had the virtue of being perfectly legal. On the other hand, a series of phony “dear neighbor” letters (many fomenting and exploiting bigotry), as well as other related activities (apparently done without the candidate’s knowledge), resulted in multiple investigations for charges such as mail fraud. No indictments ever resulted, apparently since the only crimes which could be proven were those against human decency.
As a result, “successful” candidate Duane, who had literally lost control of his campaign to Kruger and company (and confessed to such in a conversation with Padavan’s opponent), was besieged by embarrassing headlines before he had even been sworn in, spending one term in Albany as “Dead Man Walking”, before Prescott was vindicated by the voters, and the hapless Duane retired from politics, bearing the entire brunt of someone else’s disgrace.
What the Duane, Kim and Chou races have in common is the lesson that, at least in this part of Queens, appeals to people’s baser instincts do not work, at least for Democrats.
When will they ever learn?
Today the nearly 40 year hegemony of the Weprin family is being challenged by none other than Bob Friedrich, who’s finally come out of the closet and admitted that he’s a Republican. Ironically, now that he’s been liberated from the closet, Friedrich has changed his mind and come out against same-sex marriage.
If ever there was a political atmosphere, both nationally, and in northeast Queens, to beat a Weprin in Weprinland, it is in the aftermath of Scott Brown saying the seat belongs to “The People” and not the Kennedy family. It is in the aftermath of Gennaro’s swan dive, the tainting of Ackerman, the unsuccessful gutter campaigns of Chou and Kim (and the successful gutter campaign of Halloran). It is in the season of a bad economy, David Paterson, Hiram Monserrate, Floyd Flake and a lot of Democratic snowbirds staying in Boynton Beach, and dining at Flakowitz. Weprin is worried.
Is there anything the Assembly Dems could do to make matters worse?
Well, they haven’t brought in Carl Kruger (he’s probably helping Friedrich). But they’ve brought in Kruger tactics. The tactics that helped sink Kim, Chou and Duane.
Bob Friedrich opposes hate crimes legislation. It’s a principled position, and not necessarily a popular one. It may even be wrongheaded.
He is not opposing it because he wants to exclude gays from the protections of such laws. He wants to exclude everyone from the protection of such laws.
In truth, the implementation of such laws is often problematic and the value of such laws is mostly symbolic. But symbols matter.
That’s why flag burning is such a touchy matter. Given that, you think conservatives would understand the value of such laws. And many do.
But not Bob Friedrich.
Is it OK to make his principled opposition to such laws an issue?
Of course it is; that is why we have elections.
But that is what someone has done.
Did someone think that this literature, powerful though it may be, might backfire upon it source?
There is no indication on the literature who paid for it.
I’ve been pretty outspoken in pooh-poohing oversensitivity about what I call the other N-Word. It is not inflaming hate to accuse one’s opponents of using “the big lie.” It is not inflaming hate to, as Mayor Bloomberg did, mention Neville Chamberlain when speaking of appeasement. Nazi’s are pretty much the gold standard when talking about big liars and exploiters of appeasers.
Last year, when Bill DeBlasio attacked Bloomberg for implied use of the other N-word for making the Chamberlain reference about appeasing Carl Kruger, I told Courier-Life’s Gary Buiso: “Wonderful: German-American Councilman Warren W. Wilhelm says Bloomberg is a bad Jew.” That attack on Bloomberg (unlike most of the others) was preposterous.But sometimes, as when Rush Limbaugh compared President Barack Obama and Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Hitler and put on his website the logo of the president's health insurance reform plan morphing into a Nazi graphic replete with Swastikas, things have gone way beyond the pale. Not that I expect Friedrich to attack such stuff. I’ve sometimes seen supporters of his, like Robert Hornak, go beyond the pale themselves. I’d find an example, but every time I read Hornak’s Facebook page, my head explodes.
Don’t get me wrong. Bob Hornak’s a decent guy, he never GOES WAY BEYOND THE PALE, like Limbaugh, but sometimes he goes A BIT BEYOND THE PALE, especially when he talks about President Obama.
And someone, either David Weprin’s campaign or DACC has gone A BIT BEYOND THE PALE here.
Given the significance of this contest to the fall’s race for State Senate, and that race’s significance in the battle for an Amigo-Proof majority, I pray that David Weprin wins on Tuesday. That he’d probably do a far better job is merely a bonus.
But, if Weprin does not win, it will either be his own damned fault, or that of DACC. And instead of being Andrew Cuomo’s adopted brother, David Weprin will instead be Tom Duane’s.
John Duane lives again.
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