New York’s 9th Congressional District will forever be remembered not only for the departure of disgraced veteran Congressman Anthony Weiner but also for who replaced him. Bob Turner’s victory marked the first Republican win in that district since 1923, and his September 2011 election stunned the Democratic Party.
The historic political upset saw Weiner supplanted with a political novice, a modest 70-year-old media executive and grandfather of thirteen. A mild-mannered and unassuming man, Turner’s demeanor stands in stark contrast to that of his predecessor, and his background as a businessman who entered the political arena late in life is unusual for a politician.
Turner, who recently returned from a weeklong visit to Israel as part of a congressional delegation, spoke with The Jewish Press about his victory last September and his views on Israel and the ailing U.S. economy.
The Jewish Press: Many ascribe your win to general anti-Obama sentiment, a Jewish backlash against Obama’s policies regarding Israel, and the Orthodox Jewish reaction to your opponent’s endorsement of gay marriage. To what do you attribute your victory?
Turner: I’d say it was a perfect storm. I recognize how strongly Democratic this district is, but there’s an enormous discontent and backlash now on the economy, Israel, the job picture. And I think people were ready for a different message. It also reflected a disappointment with the current system and the elected officials. The fact that I never held office and didn’t look like a long termer had an appeal, and people thought I was running for the right reasons.
They saw that here’s a guy with practical sense, he’s not in politics, he doesn’t have a particular ax to grind, he’s not going to rip off the system and try to keep himself elected forever. So let’s give him a shot. He seems on the right side of the issues in terms of the economy, taxes, deficit, all of those things that are on people’s minds now that are serious issues.
You recently said of the balanced-budget amendment that “You cannot trust those guys in Washington to do what’s right, and they haven’t.” The payroll tax debacle further confirmed the public’s dim view of elected officials. Now that you’re in Congress, would you agree with the public’s disillusionment with our government?
The dysfunction right now is between the House and the Senate, where even philosophically there’s an enormous difference. [Speaker of the House John] Boehner and [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid epitomize that. In my limited time, I’ve seen the House leadership work pretty hard to put sane programs together while trying to herd the more right-wing parts of the party, the deficit hawks and so on. When we put a balanced budget together, we thought we had seventy-two Democrats who were going to come aboard. I watched the leadership get everyone into their tent, coaxing and cajoling, and educating. And they got the bill up, and the Democrats bailed. Why? For political reasons. That’s very divisive, it’s stupid politically. That was a sad day.
We had a similar thing with the payroll tax cuts. The House puts a reasonable plan together and the Senate rejects it. In the end we Republicans just folded. Now very soon we’re going to have to deal again with the same thing, and we moved the leverage from our side of the table to theirs.
Steve Goldberg, a political consultant, summed up your win by commenting, “The notion that dislike for Obama sliced through such a heavily Democratic district is unthinkable, except that it happened. The lesson for the Republican Party is to have a clear, understandable, disciplined message delivered by a coherent, believable candidate that will give the American people a sense that he or she can actually lead this county and defeat President Obama.” Which of the Republican presidential candidates do you think best fits that description?
In some way, all of them can fit it. They all have something going for them. I’ve been resolved to let the process work and let the strongest candidate emerge. I can praise Romney’s leadership and business experience. I can praise Newt’s intellect and his innovation in past government. I can praise Santorum’s social stances and morality. Everyone, except Ron Paul. The process will work its way out and the faults that people have will come to the fore, as will some of their strengths. I see it working already.
Many Orthodox Jewish voters voted against your opponent as a repudiation of his support for gay marriage. How strong of a factor do you think social conservative values will be in the upcoming election?
I think social values will be a factor, but it will not be as important as I would like. That’s the reality of it. Even among religious groups that’s not always the very first issue. It’s the economy.