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Turner win stuns boro in ‘11 GOP businessman’s victory over Dem Weprin makes political history

U.S. Rep. Bob Turner (l.) replaced former Congressman Anthony Weiner in a November special election when Turner became the first Republican to hold the Queens-Brooklyn seat since 1920.
TimesLedger Newspapers

Heading into 2011, the Queens political scene was supposed to be uneventful, with District Attorney Richard Brown facing no opposition and the foregone conclusion that Democratic judicial candidates would defeat their Republican rivals as they have for every year in recent memory.

And while the November elections went as expected — Brown won a sixth term and the six Democratic judges on the ballot won seats on the bench — one unforeseen contest in September with an improbable ending would shock the borough and the country.

A showdown between state Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Little Neck) and retired Republican businessman Bob Turner was set in motion after then-U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner began a fall from grace when he lied about sending a lewd photograph of his crotch to his followers on Twitter.

As the scandal started to unfold in early June, Weiner, who at the time was considered the odds-on favorite to be the next mayor, said the photo was not of him and that his Twitter account was hacked.

But then later that month, an X-rated photo of Weiner that he sent to a Twitter follower was released and the congressman admitted it was indeed him who sent the pictures.

As calls for his resignation grew louder, Weiner at first was granted a leave of absence and said he would go to rehab.

Ultimately, as his support diminished, Weiner held a news conference in late June at the Brooklyn senior center where he launched his political career to announce his resignation from Congress, saying the distraction he caused made it impossible for him to do his job.

As soon as Weiner left his seat and Gov. Andrew Cuomo called a Sept. 13 special election to succeed the congressman, speculation grew over who the Democratic Party would select to run on its line.

In the end, Democratic leaders from Brooklyn and Queens chose Weprin and Republicans turned to Turner, who ran unsuccessfully against Weiner in 2010.

In what was widely believed to be a cakewalk for Weprin, Turner’s campaign built momentum as the weeks went by, first gaining support from former Democratic Mayor Ed Koch and endorsements from the Daily News and the New York Post.

Weprin had a number of Democratic elected officials on his side, including U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).

A series of debates between the two candidates drew hecklers on one occasion as both men challenged each other’s views on federal spending, the deficit, Israel, Medicare and Social Security.

Early polls showed Weprin ahead, but as Sept. 13 grew closer, Turner had the upper hand.

Turner went on to defeat Weprin 53 percent to 46 percent and became the first Republican to hold that particular congressional seat since 1920.

In Queens, Weprin bested Turner 52 percent to 47 percent, but Turner dominated the Brooklyn portion of the district 67 percent to 33 percent.

The shocking result was attributed by political observers to President Barack Obama’s unpopularity at the time and Turner’s success in making the race a referendum on Obama’s policies.

Also this year, the retirement of then-Assemblywomen Audrey Pheffer and Nettie Mayersohn opened the political stage to two aides who had served behind the scenes for years.

Phil Goldfeder, a former aide to Pheffer, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schumer, defeated Republican District Leader Jane Deacy to succeed Pheffer while Mayersohn’s longtime chief of staff, Michael Simanowitz, defeated College Point Republican Marco DeSena to replace Mayersohn.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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