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Six-year-old children are rarely political, but New York Assemblyman David Weprin was.
His earliest political memory is riding on a campaign sound truck in 1962 advocating for his father, Saul, who was running for a Democratic district leader position in Queens. Weprin, 55, remembers shouting in opposition to the Empire State’s Republican governor, Nelson Rockefeller.
“Don’t vote for Rockefeller, he’s got rocks in his head,” he recalls yelling. “This is as a 6-year-old, mind you.”
The man who is heavily favored to become the next Member of Congress from New York’s 9th district comes from a storied Queens political family and has remained immersed in politics since childhood.
His father won that 1962 election to be Democratic leader of the 24th Assembly district in Queens and later served in the New York State Assembly for more than two decades — including three years as Speaker — until his death in 1994. Weprin’s brother, Mark, was elected to their father’s Assembly seat, and Weprin won his father’s position as Democratic district leader.
Weprin, who is an attorney and has been a Wall Street investment banker for more than 20 years, served as deputy superintendent of banking under then-Gov. Mario Cuomo (D). He won the party election to fill his father’s position as district leader in 1994 and ran for a seat on the New York City Council in 2001. The key Democratic primary was scheduled for Sept. 11 that year.
“I was actually campaigning in front of Martin Van Buren High School [in Queens] when the planes hit and, of course, our initial reaction, as most people’s was, is that it was an accident,” Weprin said. “I was ... with Congressman Gary Ackerman [D-N.Y.], and we ended up going to the site where we actually watched the towers fall. It was a very emotional day.”
He won the primary and the general election and served on the council for eight years as finance chairman, until he chose to run for the citywide position of comptroller, instead of seeking another term. In the 2009 election, Weprin came in last in the four-way Democratic primary. His brother left his Assembly seat and won Weprin’s former City Council seat. In 2010, Weprin ran in and won a special election for the state Assembly seat that his brother had vacated, and he now represents Queens’ 24th Assembly district — the same one his father was first elected to in the early 1970s.
Last week local party leaders selected Weprin as the Democratic nominee in the Sept. 13 special election to replace former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D).
“Politics is his life, you know?” said City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D), who has known Weprin for years.
Weprin is regarded in Queens as someone who loves the retail aspect of politics, showing up at events — sometimes outside his district — even if there is no apparent political gain to be had.
“David would rather go to events than do anything else in the world,” his brother, Mark, said.
“Ironically, I marched in about five or six Memorial Day parades,” Weprin told Roll Call, noting that he walked with Weiner in the Queens neighborhood of Forest Hills, which is outside of Weprin’s district but in the middle of the 9th Congressional district. “It was that Sunday of Memorial Day weekend when I think there was one story in the Post that his account was hijacked. And it was interesting that I actually marched in that parade, never contemplating that I’d actually be running for office representing that area,” he said.
Weiner resigned last month after admitting he engaged in inappropriate online communications with at least six women.
Politically, Weprin describes himself as “progressive on social issues and a fiscal conservative.”
He considers himself a Modern Orthodox Jew. If elected, it appears he would be the only Orthodox Jew in the House. His religion will likely be a political boon for him in more conservative Democratic areas of the 9th district that have high populations of Orthodox Jews.
Though the Brooklyn part of the district went for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the 2008 presidential election, the 9th is a reliable Democratic stronghold and Weprin appears well-positioned to take a majority of the votes in both boroughs.
Weprin will face businessman Robert Turner (R), who lost to Weiner in 2010 with 39 percent of the vote. Turner raised $379,000 last cycle, including a $101,000 loan from himself.
Roll Call Politics rates this race Safe Democratic. National and some local Republicans said they are unlikely to put substantial resources into the race.
“I don’t think anybody realistically thinks there’s a shot at winning it for the Republicans,” a longtime New York City GOP strategist said. “I think the political people — it was like, let’s not waste a lot of our summer on this.”
Because New York is losing two Congressional seats as a result of reapportionment, the conventional wisdom in the city is that Weprin would be a placeholder because the 9th is likely to be effectively dismantled when the new lines are drawn. But in recent public comments, Weprin has said that he was not asked to be a placeholder by the party and that redistricting is not something he is thinking about. Evan Stavisky, a senior strategist for the campaign, echoed those sentiments.
“You can’t predict the future,” he said, noting that redistricting is a process notorious for unexpected outcomes. “The way David looks at it is, it’s an honor to serve in Congress, whether it’s for 18 months or for 18 years.”
Regardless of how long Weprin serves in Congress, if he wins, it seems fair to assume he’ll remain deeply involved in Queens politics for the rest of his life.
Recalling his early campaign experiences to the New York Times in 1994, Weprin said, “I’ve sort of been born into the Democratic club.”