NEW YORK — State Assemblyman David Weprin (D) dropped out of a scheduled debate with Republican Bob Turner on Monday, just over two weeks before a special election in New York’s 9th district that will send one of the men to Congress.
Weprin was tripped up in a recent interview with the New York Daily News editorial board when asked the size of the national debt. The Daily News reported that he had a “deer in the headlights look” and then said “[a]bout 4 trillion.” According to the most recent Department of Treasury statistics, the country’s total debt stands at about $14.7 trillion.
The Turner campaign framed Weprin’s decision to not participate in the debate as directly related to the Daily News interview.
“Career politician David Weprin is in hiding,” Turner spokesman William O’Reilly said in a statement. “After demonstrating a stunning lack of knowledge about the size of the federal debt — he was off by $10 trillion last time he was asked — maybe he’s home studying up.”
Weprin spokeswoman Liz Kerr told Roll Call in a statement that Hurricane Irene had snarled the candidate’s schedule, resulting in him not being able to attend Monday’s debate.
“The hurricane caused major logistical and scheduling problems for the campaign and thus David is not able to make the debate this evening,” Kerr said.
Responding to a question about his Daily News interview, Kerr added, “Obviously David knows that the national debt is $14 trillion.”
“David’s slip of the tongue is not going to harm Brooklyn and Queens working-class families and seniors like Bob Turner’s plan to end Medicare and Social Security as we know it. Nor will it take away health care for our brave volunteer first responders, which is what Bob Turner wants to do,” Kerr said.
She was referring to Turner’s own trouble with the tabloid’s editorial board.
Turner told the newspaper that he thought the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act was too broad. “Is that bill beyond criticism? No,” he told the Daily News.
Weprin’s campaign slammed Turner for the comments, even blasting out a robocall from 9/11 first responder John Feal. Turner “doesn’t think the brave men and women who got sick volunteering at ground zero in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks deserve federal health benefits. It’s disgraceful,” Feal said in the call.
In an interview with Roll Call in his spokesman’s Manhattan office, Turner said the Daily News brought up the issue because of concerns that he had aired to them “a year ago” before the bill became law. He said the Daily News recently asked him what he had meant by his comments and he had explained himself.
“I may be a novice in politics, but I’m not crazy enough to go out on a dead issue that is a year old and condemn [9/11] volunteers,” he said.
Turner and Weprin are squaring off in the Sept. 13 special election to fill the seat of former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D), who resigned earlier this year after an embarrassing scandal over sexual communications with women through social media.
A headline on the Daily News’s website summed up the paper’s opinion of both candidates: “Candidates in [C]ongressional special election are enough to make voters yearn for Anthony Weiner.”