08/15/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

One Weprin Foe Rejects His Family, The Other Fights To Keep Him In Albany

The furthest reaches of northeastern Queens, where New York City begins to dissolve into the suburbia of Long Island and single-family houses dot tree-lined streets, is Weprin Country.

Here, neighborhoods like Fresh Meadows, Bayside and New Hyde Park have sent Mark Weprin (D) to the Assembly and his brother David (D) to the City Council for a decade. Their father, Saul, held what is now Mark’s seat in the Assembly for nearly a quarter of a century before that, rising to speaker shortly before he died in office.

Now, David is using the area as a base of support in his bid to become the next city comptroller, while Mark is trying to take over his brother’s emptying Council seat.

“I felt like it was time for a new challenge,” Mark Weprin said. “People say, ‘Why would you give up a safe seat like that?’ But for me it makes a lot of sense. You can jump the shark in Albany without realizing it.”

But Mark’s Council opponents charge that his candidacy is built too much around his famous last name and family pride.

“He jumped in [to the race] because he wants to keep things in the family,” said Swaranjit Singh, one of the two other candidates in the race. “That’s what the goal is—flip-flop, and to keep the power in the family.”

Singh, a practicing Sikh who sports a bright red turban in his campaign mailings, gained visibility in the community after Sept. 11 when he spoke out against racial and religious intolerance. A native of Punjab, India, who made a successful career as a real estate broker in Queens, Singh has rallied supporters around his bid to become the first Sikh to win elected office in New York.

“We have no representation in the City Council, Assembly, New York State Senate, Congress, nowhere,” Singh said in an interview. “I’ll be making history.”

He has also found some support outside of his base by challenging the reign of the Weprins.

“Nepotism has to come to an end or our democracy is at risk,” said mayoral candidate and Council Member Tony Avella (D-Queens), a Singh supporter. “The same political families control everything.”

Weprin’s name recognition may give him a leg up in appealing to voters, but so far does not seem to have helped with fundraising, with Singh out-raising Weprin by a factor of 6-1 to date.

Much of Singh’s cash has come from South Asians in the district’s Bellerose and Floral Park neighborhood. Singh, though, says that his personal narrative has crossover appeal.

“Spanish, Jewish and Italians have given to me,” he said. “People from all walks of life have given money to me.”

Bob Friedrich, the third candidate, meanwhile, is banking his candidacy on the unusual claim that Weprin is a good legislator—too good, in fact, to leave Albany. Friedrich, a civic leader and president of the Glen Oaks Village co-op board, said a ballot cast for him will bring new blood to the Council and keep Weprin doing what he knows best.

“You get the best of both worlds by voting for me,” he said.

Many of Friedrich’s supporters, though, say that they are backing Friedrich in order to break up the Weprin dynasty.

“You’ve got the Staviskys, the Vallones, the Hevesis, and you have the Weprins,” said Queens GOP chair Phil Ragusa. “I thought we got away from England. We don’t need any kingships.”

The Queens GOP has cross-endorsed Friedrich.

Despite Weprin’s slow start at fundraising, he has the institutional and organizational support that comes with 15 years of public service. He has racked up 32 endorsements, including those from lawmakers, unions and several Democratic clubs.

“It was kind of a no-brainer for us,” said Patrick Purcell, assistant to the president for grocery workers’ union UFCW Local 1500, of the decision to endorse Weprin.

In the Assembly, Purcell said, Weprin showed the union how to navigate the legislative labyrinth of Albany.

“He’ll talk to leadership for us; not everyone wants to do that. A lot of them say, ‘Oh, this is how [Assembly Speaker] Shelly [Silver] feels about it,’ and then go hide in the corner.”

Win or lose, Weprin said, he is happy with his decision to run for the Council.

“Look, I have other skills in life,” he said. “I’m a lawyer. I used to be a bartender. Those are things I could do after politics.”

photo by Daniel Burnstein


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