Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Dealing With Three New Rs — Republicans, Redistricting & Robocalls (Sept. 15, 2011)

   For the first time in almost 90 years, voters in the heavily Democratic Ninth Congressional District that spans neighborhoods from southern Brooklyn to Queens elected a Republican to replace former Rep. Anthony Weiner who resigned under pressure last June following a sex scandal.
In a rerun of last fall’s election results, the Republican Party and some analysts interpreted this victory as a referendum of escalating voter dissatisfaction with President Barack Obama and the state of the nation.
Greenhorn politician Bob Turner, a retired television executive, credited with creating the Jerry Springer and Rush Limbaugh shows, defeated hand-picked Democratic candidate David Weprin, a state legislator and former city councilman, in Tuesday’s special election.
Regardless, Turner’s victory gives the GOP momentum and something to boast about heading into the 2012 presidential campaign. But, his single vote in Congress will have little consequence with Republicans already holding a clear majority.
In recent weeks Turner had overtaken Weprin in polls and the margin by which he won was close to the difference in one survey released the day before Tuesday’s election.
Nevertheless, Weprin, who came off as a lackluster campaigner, appears to have been a sacrificial lamb in a district that may be on the chopping block next year when state legislators are forced to eliminate two districts statewide. To make matters worse, as Weprin’s lead dwindled as the election neared, desperate Democrats poured cash into the race and sent in VIPs, like former President Bill Clinton and Governor Andrew Cuomo who recorded supportive telephone messages, to try to salvage Weprin.
Turner, already had big guns hawking for him ex-mayors Ed Koch and Rudy Giuliani so Democrats must have figured they needed big shots, too.
Meanwhile, as he campaigned, Weprin had little choice but to advocate Obama’s unpopular economic policies while attempting to spotlight his independence and questionable ties to the community.
Until they chose Weprin, who few voters even knew of a few months ago, to fill Weiner’s seat, there were few takers, but the vacancy had to be filled. Unfortunately, in doing so, our political system offers was skirted. Instead of scheduling a primary and giving voters a slate of candidates from which to choose, Brooklyn and Queens Democratic leaders got their heads together and picked the candidate. Not exactly the ideal process our Founding Fathers had in mind.
The process also felt blemished in the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s election,  as voters were bombard with campaign literature and automated phone calls — known as robocalls in the current lexicon — with promoting, defending or criticizing either candidate.
On Monday and Election Day, I received well over a dozen robocalls from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m., promoting either candidate, from several states according to my caller ID including Oregon, Wisconsin, Indiana and Mississippi. About a third delineated reasons to vote against Weprin without mentioning Turner’s name, though others did.
That was in addition to a prior week of calls and dozens of pamphlets promoting or condemning either candidate stuffed in my mailbox for either candidate.
Once the election is over let’s hope there’s at least one bold state politician to take a stand in the next legislative session to end the annoying automated calls and propose legislation to print campaign materials must be produced with recycled paper.
When the government established its “Do Not Call” registry several years ago, to thwart the bombardment of mushrooming complaints from consumers about unwanted and unsolicited calls from telemarketers, political matters were disqualified. When the rules were being written, self-interested legislators apparently preferred to be excluded because it would remove a convenient outlet when campaigning. So, while residents can opt out from uninvited phone calls from unsolicited merchants and advertisers, particularly at dinner time, politicians conveniently remain in the mix whether we want them or not.
Our cherished two-party system is alive and well and, for the most part, in good health. But, there are those moments, like the Ninth District election, when political leaders prefer to take matters in their own hands, leaving voters as pawns in the process.