Political Action: Friedrich Assembly campaign hard-fought despite losing race

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The Feb. 9 special election for the 24th State Assembly District seat between Democrats David Weprin and Bob Friedrich, who was running as a Republican, ended with Weprin winning by a decisive margin. Friedrich, however, made an impressive showing getting close to 40 percent of the vote.

It was a hard-fought campaign lasting little more than a month, whereas a regular general election could last for almost a year when it ends in November. Had this been a general election with the increased time involved instead of a short special election, the results might have been significantly different.

The main issue in the race consisted of Friedrich attacking Weprin for continuing to vote in favor of tax increases as a member of the City Council instead of focusing on eliminating waste in the city budget. Weprin’s defense was that tax increases were necessary to avoid cutting vital city services.

The overall circumstances of the campaign gave a decided advantage to Weprin in terms of his ability to raise more money than Friedrich. He was also able to send out mailings to all the voters in the district, whereas Friedrich could only send out target mailings to smaller groups of voters.

Friedrich’s campaign concentrated on door-to-door campaigning and an elaborate phone bank whereby campaign volunteers were given lists of people to call from their homes. The traditional format of having campaign workers contact voters at shopping centers was not used.

The race in the last two weeks before the election was beginning to attract the attention of the news media. The most controversial aspect of the campaign occurred in the final week, when Weprin sent out a campaign brochure accusing Friedrich of being an extremist and displaying a picture of the Nazi swastika emblem at a crime scene.

By doing so, Weprin was associating Friedrich’s name with that symbol. In my many years of being active in politics, I have never seen such deplorable campaign tactics. I hope I never do again. It should be noted that Friedrich’s father is a veteran of World War II who served in the European theater during that war.

Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) supported Friedrich and campaigned for him in the closing days of the race. Volunteers from all over Queens came into the district to help Friedrich. They were eventually divided into five teams that went door to door trying to get out the vote for Friedrich. On Election Day, the United Federation of Teachers union brought in a huge number of members to campaign for Weprin and they were effective.

As people went to vote at various school polling sites, they were greeted by stand-up campaign posters that read in large letters “Vote Weprin.” These signs did not say vote for David Weprin. They just used the family last name so some voters might think they were voting for Mark Weprin, who was the state assemblyman for many years but now holds David Weprin’s old seat on the City Council. David Weprin, in turn, is taking his brother’s seat in the Assembly.

The Republican County leadership led by Phil Ragusa intends to provide intense political competition in as many races as possible throughout Queens. Two Republican county officials, Jay Golub and Robert Hornak, were instrumental in directing Friedrich’s campaign. They were active in helping to direct Council races last fall.

In the final analysis, the Weprin dynasty proved too strong at this point to be overthrown, although Friedrich in his election night speech to his supporters indicated he brought in one of the best vote totals in years against the Weprins. Friedrich as of now has not made a decision as to whether he will run again in the fall for the 24th Assembly District seat.

In summarizing his campaign, Friedrich said, “We ran a campaign that we can be proud of. We did not resort to gutter politics and always tried to stay positive.”

Friedrich fought the good fight. His efforts against an entrenched political establishment served as an example to others who may follow him.

Updated 6:05 pm, October 10, 2011
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