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NYC Redistricting Shakes Up Jewish Pols

Bob Turner to run for Senate; Koch won’t repeat endorsement

Marc Tracy
March 14, 2012
Ed Koch at the coronation of his bridge.(JP Yim/Getty Images)
Ed Koch at the coronation of his bridge.(JP Yim/Getty Images)

Rep. Bob Turner, the Republican rookie politician last seen defeating Democrat David Weprin for Anthony Weiner’s old congressional seat in Queens and Brooklyn, announced yesterday that he will contest the GOP primary to try to face Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, this November.

The special election last September was widely perceived in part as a referendum on how President Obama’s Mideast policies were playing with Jewish voters (never mind that the district’s Jewish voters are disproportionately Orthodox and Russian immigrants). The seat’s previous holder, Weiner, is Jewish; Weprin is Jewish; and Turner’s prospective opponent for the seat, Rory Lancman, is Jewish (more on that seat, which may soon not exist, in a little).

Never fear, though: Former Mayor Ed Koch, a Democrat who played an extremely outsize role in making last September’s special election about Israel and propelling Turner to victory, told The Daily Beast’s Ben Jacobs (who covered the special election for Tablet Magazine) that he will support Gillibrand. (He also thinks Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic Senate candidate from Massachusetts, is “absolutely sensational.”)

“Koch’s deviations from the Democratic party tend to come in situations where there is a stark contrast on foreign policy, such as the Bush-Kerry race in 2004, or when he is trying to send a message, as with the more recent Turner race,” noted Tevi Troy, who wrote a remarkably prescient article about Hizzoner for Tablet last year. “I’d love to see him back Turner, but this move does not surprise me. As for Turner, he gained a huge amount of name recognition in his upset victory of Weprin. Given that and his disappearing district, the run for the Senate makes sense.”

Yes: the disappearing district! “The move,” reported the Daily News of Turner’s announcement, “is clearly a redistricting-related change of heart.” In an interview yesterday, Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic consultant and The Scroll’s rabbi when it comes to New York City politics, agreed: “The fact that he is doing this now tells you that Turner sees the writing on the wall, refuses to leave public life, and makes it easier now for what’s left of the congressional delegation to have less anxiety as they go to sleep,” he said. “So they should all send Turner a box of candy for reducing their anxiety.”

It is difficult to say exactly who is going to be left without a chair when the music stops, because the district lines aren’t final. Lancman might still have a seat to run for, but the areas of Queens left to him may conflict with Democratic Rep. Gary Ackerman’s, which also contains parts of neighboring Nassau County.

“[Rep. Jerrold] Nadler goes north, [Rep Eliot] Engel goes north,” predicted Sheinkopf, referring to other Jewish NYC Dem congressmen. “The unintended consequence of telling Turner that he would not have a district under the present plan was that the Democrats now [face] a U.S. Senate candidate who can raise money because he’s a Republican in the majority in Congress who is well liked by Jews downstate, who’s drawn the lines against the president on Israeli policy, and who is a hard worker, relates very well to people, and has this ‘aw, shucks’ attitude about him,” he explained, “versus a congresswoman from upstate who was chosen, not elected—although she did have an election—and who’s going to face potentially a well-funded, well-liked candidate.”

Which is not to suggest the redistricting is a total win for the Republicans. “Only people it helps,” Sheinkopf observed, “are the consultants.”

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.