Television Titan Is Ready to Try His Hand at Politics
Rep.-elect Bob Turner already knows how to deal with controversy, mediation and drama — political or otherwise.
The newest Member of the New York delegation, who won a Congressional seat long held by Democrats on Tuesday, is known for helping launch the outrageous, and often bawdy, “Jerry Springer Show.”
A retired television executive, Turner enters the 112th Congress as a political novice.
Despite his TV background, he is expected to have a much different legislating style than his predecessor, the brazen and outspoken former Rep. Anthony Weiner. The Democrat was forced to resign earlier this year amid an embarrassing scandal that involved sexual communications with women via social media.
Turner’s special election win Tuesday night made national headlines as Republicans sought to portray it as a referendum on the Obama administration’s policies and as a warning sign for Democrats heading into 2012.
Turner told Roll Call on Monday evening that leading up to the vote, the race had become “surreal.”
“The highlight of the day was Mayor [Rudy] Giuliani coming into the district, where we had a press conference and it looked absolutely presidential,” he said with a laugh.
Turner realized that he would be the one in the spotlight.
“I just had to do a reality check every now and then,” he said. “You know, I volunteered to do a job, and it’s kind of taking off.”
The 70-year-old Turner has years of managerial and corporate experience — but no practice legislating or politicking. His first bid for the 9th district seat was in 2010, when he challenged Weiner. Turner decided to run after he saw the Congressman on a Fox News program and got frustrated with how he was answering questions.
Turner garnered just 39 percent of the vote in that race. But when Weiner resigned in June, Turner was tapped by local party leaders to be the GOP’s special election nominee.
The race proved more competitive than expected. Turner was viewed as the underdog against Democratic Assemblyman David Weprin, who hails from a well-known Queens political family. Furthermore, the New York City district has a more than 3-to-1 Democratic voter registration edge and had long supported Democratic candidates.
But Weprin, because of his past political experience and family name, was seen as an incumbent — or at least part of the status quo. The race also became a proxy fight on the issue of U.S. policy on Israel, with Turner receiving strong support from the district’s Jewish community despite the fact that Weprin is an Orthodox Jew.
The end result wasn’t even close: Turner took 53 percent to Weprin’s 47 percent.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which spent roughly $500,000 on a late TV ad buy, called the race “a tough loss” in a memo on Wednesday.
House Homeland Security Chairman Peter King, a Long Island Republican who campaigned for Turner, said the win was a hat-tip to his “determination and decency.”
“It is a stinging indictment of President [Barack] Obama’s policy on Israel and spending,” King said.
Turner, a Roman Catholic now representing a district with an active Jewish constituency, sees the Jewish state as the “only dependable” ally in the Middle East. He opposes the United Nations recognizing Palestine as a state.
Turner’s overall platform is parallel to other Republican priorities in the House. He said the 2009 economic stimulus bill was a “colossal failure” and wants tax cuts and restrictions on federal regulations to spur small-business job growth.
In an op-ed for the Brooklyn Politics website, Turner chastised career politicians and said he believes, despite the naiveté, in being a “citizen legislator.”
His parents were New Deal Democrats; he comes from a mixed political background and expects to work across the aisle.
After receiving a degree in history from St. John’s University, Turner briefly served in the Army and then started working at ABC-TV in New York. He moved to other media organizations, including Multimedia Entertainment. It was there that he helped launch “The Jerry Springer Show” in the 1990s, along with other daytime talk shows “Donahue” and “Sally Jessy Raphael.”
Turner left television in 2001 as president and CEO of Pearson PLC. Married with five children, he currently is a partner in a hotel business in Orlando. Fla.
Turner and Rep.-elect Mark Amodei (R-Nev.) are expected to be sworn in to the House today, which will make the breakdown of the chamber 242 Republicans and 192 Democrats. There is one vacancy in Oregon, which will be filled by a January special election.
While Republicans are enthusiastic about Turner’s victory, his tenure on Capitol Hill may be short-lived. The 9th district could be eliminated after redistricting in New York, although Turner has indicated he will seek re-election no matter what.
Joshua Miller contributed to this report.