Navigate to News section

Lieberman Backs Dem Against Koch’s Guy

Contest for Weiner’s empty seat turns into statement on Obama and Israel

Marc Tracy
July 28, 2011
Sen. Joe Lieberman in May.(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Sen. Joe Lieberman in May.(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

This morning, Sen. Joe Lieberman, from Connecticut, will endorse David Weprin, Democratic Assemblyman from New York, in the September 13 special election to fill former Rep. Anthony Weiner’s seat. In a sense, this is insane: Why is Lieberman, a high-profile Democrat (once, it is so easy to forget, the party’s vice-presidential candidate) turned idiosyncratic Independent, involved with one fakarkte district in a state not his own? The answer lies in the fact that one of political journalism’s laziest tropes is to look to special elections—those not held on gray November election days—as bellwethers for the status of the two parties at the moment. And this special election is a doozy: It has become a test of the Obama administration’s (in?)ability to hold onto Jewish votes come November 2012. This despite the fact that Weprin and his opponent, Republican Bob Turner, are for all intents and purposes equally and strongly pro-Israel. The candidates are ciphers. In some postmodern political experiment (paging Beaudrillard?), the race has become about using these two people and this fairly Jewish district encompassing parts of Queens and Brooklyn to send a message to the president—but, really, to the political class, the journalists, and the punditocracy—about how Jews will feel about Obama in approximately 15 months. Got all that?

This isn’t my out-of-left-field hypothesis or sophisticated analysis. You could read all about it yesterday in an excellent Times article, which noted, “New York’s Ninth Congressional District finds itself talking about an unlikely subject—whether Mr. Weprin, who is unabashedly pro-Israel, is the best pro-Israel advocate” (it also notes that Weprin is a practicing modern Orthodox Jew). The cinch is Obama: the politician who has created this beast “has acknowledged that Mr. Weprin is a strong supporter of Israel,” the Times reported, “but argued that the election of Mr. Turner would serve as a rebuke to Mr. Obama for saying that Israel’s pre-1967 border should be the basis for a peace agreement.”

And that person responsible is, of course, former New York City Mayor Ed Koch. Soon after Weiner resigned, Koch, 86, ruled out Weiner’s future chances at attaining the mayoralty (for reasons unrelated to Israel). And earlier this month, he called on Ninth voters to vote against Weprin because of Obama. (According to the Times, Jews make up roughly a quarter of eligible voters in the district but likely more than one-third of those who will actually head for the polls; “you definitely can’t get wiped out in the Jewish vote and expect to win a district like this,” one political consultant said). Koch’s moves are bad news for Obama if you buy Tevi Troy’s suprisingly durable theory that Democrats need Hizzoner’s support to win presidential elections.

Some of the Orthodox Jews in the district, which is solidly Democratic if nonethless conservative by New York City standards, may find a different reason to vote against Weprin, though: He supported the same-sex marriage law passed in Albany last month.

But back to where we began: will Lieberman’s backing help? “It is a Democrat endorsing a Democrat,” a Turner spokesperson has said, dismissing it. “The reason why the Koch endorsement is so powerful is that the mayor is crossing party lines to send a message to President Obama on Israel.” Well, sorta. Lieberman is actually not a Democrat; and, unlike Koch (and unlike Turner, but like Weprin), he has been active in politics recently and is an Orthodox Jew. Then again, Lieberman couldn’t even win the vice-presidency with the popular vote at his back—and that was with Ed Koch’s support.

Joe Lieberman to Endorse David Weprin Tomorrow [Politicker NY]
Weiner’s Exit Sets Off a Race to be Israel’s Better Friend [NYT]
Related: Christian Wrong [Tablet Magazine]
Koch Test [Tablet Magazine]
Earlier: Obama Currently Flunking the Koch Test
Weiner Fails the Koch Test

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