After U.S. Rep. Bob Turner became the first Republican to represent the 9th Congressional District in more than 80 years, he thought his star would return to Earth — or at least be dimmed.
After all, the election that garnered Turner headlines from New York to Los Angeles had wrapped up in a blinding barrage of flashes from reporters’ cameras documenting a Republican’s victory in a district once thought to be among the safest stomping grounds for Democrats in the state, if not the country.
Perhaps now, Turner thought, life would become less of a frenzy.
He was wrong.
“It’s been crazy,” Turner (R-Queens and Brooklyn) said in a sit-down interview with the Queens Chronicle last Thursday. “The day after the election, I went outside and there were New York Times reporters standing outside my house, waiting for me. I said, ‘What are you doing here? My 15 minutes is up.’”
While Turner has yet to seek the national spotlight in the way his predecessor, Anthony Weiner, did —touring political talk shows and giving impassioned speeches on the House floor that become YouTube hits — the Republican is making headlines, especially with talk of his election potentially being a barometer for what will happen in 2012.
Life since the Sept. 13 special election, in which Turner defeated Democratic Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Little Neck) has been somewhat surreal, Turner said.
“I was sworn in the day after the election, and I voted that very day,” Turner said. “There’s something unreal about the whole thing.”
The new congressman said he has since been scrambling to “catch up,” and he’ll be the first one to tell you he has much to learn.
“The most surprising thing, well there are so many things,” Turner said. “The voting procedures and speed is pretty interesting. Some bills are hundreds of pages; it’s crazy.”
It’s not only procedural issues, or even national topics, that Turner has to bring himself up to speed on, and he’s not shy to admit he doesn’t know some of the concerns in the district — he said, for example, he doesn’t “have a clue what’s going on,” with the Kew Gardens Interchange Project. Trying to ride a tidal wave of newness, Turner’s not shy about asking for help.
When he, accompanied by Britta Vander Linden, a campaign strategist from the Manhattan-based NLO Strategies, sat down with editors and reporters from the Queens Chronicle, the two asked what issues are important to constituents and fastidiously took notes while discussing healthcare and hospital closures in Queens.
Almost immediately after being sworn into office by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Turner voted for a bill that would bar the Obama administration from preventing the Boeing aircraft company from building new jets in South Carolina at non-union facilities.
Based in Washington state, Boeing wants to build some of its planes in South Carolina following a series of union strikes against the company over the years in Washington.
“My vote was in favor of job creation and economic growth and not catering to a powerful union,” Turner said of his decision, which landed him criticism from state Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows).
In a press conference Lancman held the day after the vote, he said the bill would “undermine basic worker protections and enable companies to outsource American jobs overseas.”
When asked if he believed Lancman — one of several names originally thrown around as a possible Democratic contender for the 9th Congressional District — was possibly setting himself up for a run against Turner, the Congressman said if that’s the case, “Let’s bring him on.”
Job creation is on the top of Turner’s priority list, and he said he’s supporting hydrofracking in New York because he believes it would be an “enormous source of job growth and revenue for the state, which is in dire straits.”
Hydrofracking — a process used to extract natural gas — has been a contentious issue in the state, and across the country, with proponents saying it creates needed jobs and opponents saying they are worried it could contaminate the city’s upstate drinking water supply.
Also on the energy front, Turner said he supports nuclear power — though he said he’s “not necessarily in opposition” to Gov. Cuomo’s support for shutting down Indian Point, the Westchester-based nuclear plant that generates about 30 percent of the power for the city.
“Nuclear energy is a great way to go,” Turner said. “Europe has hundreds of smaller plants — maybe that’s the answer.”
Still, he said, at Indian Point, “you have age, security, population density and a number of other things to consider.
“If it needs to close, we’ll look at other places upstate or elsewhere,” he added.
Though Turner has repeatedly slammed the Obama administration on its policies in Israel — something that landed him the endorsement of former Democratic Mayor Ed Koch and arguably won him the race, he does agree with the president on something.
Turner said he agrees that No Child Left Behind has not achieved what legislators thought it would. Obama plans to let states opt out of NCLB’s requirements.
“I’m in favor of as much responsibility that can be being pushed to the states and the parents,” Turner said.