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E. O'Brien Murray could hardly contain his glee.
One evening, about two weeks before the special election in New York's 9th district, Republican businessman Bob Turner, whose campaign Murray was managing, was ensconced in the front row of a friendly crowd at a Russian-language synagogue in Queens. Murray, tapping his BlackBerry, spotted the Democratic nominee, David Weprin, enter the back of the sanctuary.
Weprin had been scheduled to attend a debate that same evening but had pulled out at the last minute, citing logistical issues due to the remnants of Tropical Storm Irene. But here he was, making a stop at an event taking place at the very same time the debate would have been held.
Weprin gave a short speech to the congregation and then headed for the door.
Murray, who goes by the nickname "O'B," trailed the Democrat as he walked out of the sanctuary. In the foyer, surrounded by vendors with Cyrillic signs selling snacks and tchotchkes, he repeatedly asked Weprin why he had canceled on the debate. Weprin was unresponsive.
"David, there's a reporter here!" Murray, 45, said, seeming to relish the small act of political theater. Weprin finally turned around, gamely stuck out his hand, and with a tight grin on his face, said, "See you Wednesday," referring to the date of the next scheduled candidate forum.
"Did you ask him about the debate?" Murray forcefully asked a reporter a moment later.
Brash, strategic and combative, Murray learned the political trade on the streets of New York and still practices it there.
"I've never been one to avoid confrontation," he said in an interview.
While a taste for political theater and hard-nosed politics is as common in New York as gridlock-induced profanity, Murray's special-election win in the middle of the Big Apple makes him an exceedingly unusual political operative.
The contours of his career haven't followed a common path, either. Murray has melded politics and real estate from an early age.
"I started doing lit drops when I was 13," said Murray, who has a master's degree in real estate. "I [had] been around the politics, and I got my real estate license for the first time when I was 18."
After working for Rudy Giuliani's successful New York City mayoral campaign in 1993, focusing on getting out the vote and ballot security, Murray worked for the New York Republican Party. Returning to a job in a different sector, Murray worked for Steve Wynn, tackling both real estate and political issues for the casino mogul. Murray later continued in the same vein as a vice president at Hilton Gaming.