In a restaurant in Middle Village, rows of seats expected to be filled on Monday night remained empty —but no one can blame a rough economy, or even a slow start to the week, for this.
David Weprin, a Democratic Assemblyman running for Congress, canceled his appearance at what was to be his second debate against his Republican opponent, Bob Turner, citing a scheduling conflict caused by Hurricane Irene, and the decision sparked fury amongst members of the Juniper Park Civic Association. The JPCA, and an area newspaper, had planned to sponsor the debate at Bel Mondo Restaurant on Metropolitan Avenue.
“The neighborhoods of Middle Village, Maspeth, Glendale and Ridgewood are being told by Weprin, ‘Get lost, I owe you nothing but a smile and a handshake for the cameras,’” JPCA President Robert Holden said in a scathing statement posted on the group’s website.
Weprin and Turner are running in the Sept. 13 special election for the 9th Congressional District, which was previously represented by Anthony Weiner.
Weprin campaign officials insisted that no harm had been intended by the cancellation.
“The hurricane caused major logistical and scheduling problems for the campaign, and as a result, David is not able to make the debate this evening,” Liz Kerr, a spokesperson for Weprin, said in an email.
Still, Juniper Park officials lambasted the Assemblyman, saying on their website that he “canceled with weak excuses of pre-arranged dates conflicting with Aug. 29, despite the fact that he knew about the debate for over a month and his staff was fully aware of the event.”
Turner also criticized Weprin for canceling, and campaign officials said they offered “to drive Mr. Weprin to the debate, if he can’t get there himself.”
The Republican candidate’s campaign issued a press release on Monday afternoon stating that it sent a Turner volunteer to drive from Weprin’s campaign headquarters to Bel Mondo Restaurant to prove the route is clear.
“Our intrepid volunteer braved sunny skies and clear roadways this afternoon to chart the course between Mr. Weprin’s headquarters in Forest Hills and the site of tonight’s debate in Middle Village,” said William O’Reilly, a spokesman for Turner. “What he discovered is that, indeed, the 22-minute trip can be made if one is willing to brave two turns and several traffic lights. Now that he knows the route, our volunteer is offering to pick up and drop off Mr. Weprin this evening — so Mr. Weprin can no longer say he can’t get there.”
A spokesman for Weprin did not comment on the Turner campaign’s statement.
The Turner camp also issued a release on Monday that noted Weprin decided to pull out of Monday’s event after the Democratic candidate told the Daily News’ editorial board that the national debt was $4 trillion, when the correct number is about $14 trillion.
“The $14 trillion federal debt, and its drag on the U.S. economy, is the most significant issue in America today, and Mr. Weprin is totally unaware of it,” Turner said in a prepared statement.
Jake Dilemani, a spokesman for Weprin, countered Turner, saying “obviously David knows that the national debt is $14 trillion.”
“David’s slip of the tongue is not going to harm Brooklyn and Queens working- class families and seniors like Bob Turner’s plan to end Medicare and Social Security as we know it,” Dilemani said.
Turner has said he does not support ending Medicare or Social Security, though he did tell the Queens Chronicle on Monday that he believes there have to be changes made to the programs, such as raising the minimum age for eligibility.
Weprin and Turner will face off at a Sept. 6 debate sponsored by the Queens Chronicle and The Forum.
The event will begin at 8:45 p.m. at St. Barnabas Church, located at 159-19 98 St. in Howard Beach, following a 7:30 talk with candidates running for the 23rd Assembly District. Weprin confirmed he will definitely be at the debate.