Weprin, Turner debate draws hecklers

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Congressional candidates David Weprin and Bob Turner had to talk over loud cheers, boos, groans and hecklers as they squared off in a debate Monday night at the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills.

When Weprin, a Democratic state assemblyman from Little Neck, claimed to the crowd that Turner, a retired television executive from the Rockaways running on the Republican line, wants to cut Social Security and Medicaid, he was met with shouts of “Liar!” and “You lie!”

Moderator Richard Hellenbrecht of the Queens Civic Congress — an organization that sponsored the forum along with TimesLedger Newspapers, the Daily News and the Queens Tribune — had to tell the audience a number of times to settle down and warned them they would be kicked out of the synagogue if they continued their behavior.

A man screamed at Weprin, calling him a “hypocrite” for voting in favor of gay marriage in the state Legislature. Weprin is an Orthodox Jew.

When Turner criticized Weprin’s suggestion that the government tax millionaires and billionaires at higher rates as “political sloganism” and impractical, a man in the crowd shouted, “You never got a job for a poor person!”

Turner drew applause during his opening statement for saying he was a political outsider.

“I’m a businessman, not a politician,” he said. “I’d like to consider myself a citizen candidate.”

Turner said he would bring a “business practicality” to Washington and President Barack Obama “is certainly not on the same page as me.

“This is the most irresponsible, ridiculous government we’ve ever seen,” he said.

Both candidates were asked what they both admired in each other and what about their opponent scared them the most.

Weprin called Turner a “good father, but I’m very scared of his Tea Party philosophy. I’m scared of the extreme views.”

Turner also said he admired Weprin’s family, joking that he tried to get Weprin’s mother, Sylvia, to vote for him.

“She wouldn’t,” Turner said before attacking Weprin as being “tainted by a long career in politics,” referring to the City Council slush fund scandal and accusing Weprin of taking political contributions from charity.

“There’s something wrong with the system and he’s part of the system and that’s why he’s got to go,” Turner said.

In his opening statement, Weprin said he was running “to make sure we preserve Medicare and Social Security. My opponent, on the other hand, would like to change Social Security and Medicare and has stated so on a number of occasions.”

Turner said that if it were up to him, he would cut federal spending by 35 percent — including gutting the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and slashing the budget of the U.S. Department of Education — which he said would take about seven to 10 years to accomplish.

“It is not only possible, it’s absolutely necessary,” he said, noting the plan would spare Medicare and Social Security from cuts.

Weprin went on the attack on Turner’s math, saying Medicare and Social Security account for 40 percent of the national budget.

“It is impossible to cut the federal budget 35 percent without cutting Medicare and Social Security,” he said.

Weprin then went on to say Turner “admires the leaders of the Tea Party movement,” which he said is in line with Turner’s views on not raising taxes on the mega-rich and multinational corporations.

“That’s unacceptable. Corporations and millionaires and billionaires deserve to pay their fair share,” Weprin said.

When asked about times they had bucked their respective parties, Weprin said he had spoken out publicly against Obama’s stance that Israel go back to its pre-1967 borders as part of the Middle East peace process and that he stood up to Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) on term limits and congestion pricing.

Turner evaded the question, saying he is not beholden to a political party.

“I don’t owe no one anything,” he said. “I’m not a party loyalist and they don’t have anything that I want or need.”

The outbursts from the crowd were not limited to just Weprin and Turner.

When panelist and TimesLedger Newspapers reporter Joe Anuta asked a question about gay marriage on the federal level, some in the crowd groaned before he was finished asking it.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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