Lancman prepares to run against Bob Turner (and John Boehner), if redistricting allows it

With South Asian Lesbian & Gay Alliance in Richmond Hills. (LancmanOffice via flickr)
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Assemblyman Rory Lancman has declared his intention to challenge Republican Bob Turner for the congressional seat Turner won in September following Anthony Weiner's resignation from Congress. And he believes he can beat Turner no matter what the shape of the district is after redistricting.

"The Republicans are not going to be able to gerrymander a seat for Bob Turner that insulates him from my running against him," Lancman told me. "That's my comment."

But New York's 9th congressional district is complicated. About a quarter of it is in Brooklyn. On the Queens side, it bumps up against the district currently represented by Rep. Joseph Crowley, whose own district is mostly in the Bronx at the moment, but may shift back into Queens for the next election.

In which case Lancman, whose Assembly district is in Queens, could find himself lumped in with Crowley, not Turner.

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This would complicate his plans somewhat.

"There's no scenario where I'm going to be running against Joe Crowley," Lancman told me.

(After the interview, I emailed his office, mostly for fun, to ask what would happen if his part of Queens wound up with the new district of Rep. Gary Ackerman, a Democrat whose current district is in Queens and Nassau County. Lancman's spokesman, Eric Walker, said in an email, "We're focused on running against Bob Turner, and we aren't getting into every hypothetical redistricting possibility out there.")

Lancman's own Assembly district has undergone some major changes in the redistricting process, but he said, "I love my new Assembly district."

Lancman's current district runs mostly north to south and includes neighborhoods like Whitestone and Richmond Hills. The district proposed by the legislature's redistricting task force to reflect the latest census data goes mostly east to west, and the number of Asian-American voters in the district has gone from 35 to percent to more than 50 percent of the total.

Lancman has been running for Congress for a long time, or at least preparing to do so, approximately since the moment it became clear that Weiner might have to resign.

Lancman's tactic, since Turner's election, has basically been to remind people, as often and in as many ways as possible, that Turner is a Republican, and also to neutralize the Israel issue that helped doom the Democrat in the special election, Assemblyman David Weprin.

"It starts with his own statement that John Boehner is a guy he agrees with more than anything else and it's reflected in the votes that he's taken in Congress," Lancman said.

On Sept. 15th, Lancman attacked Turner's very first vote as a congressman, when he voted with Republicans to prevent the National Labor Relations Board from stopping Boeing's new plant in South Carolina from opening. Democrats opposed the legislation and accused Boeing of opening the plant as retaliation against its workers in Washington State who have repeatedly tried to unionize. 

"His next major vote was to take us back to debt-ceiling theatrics," Lancman said. "I haven't seen Turner focus at all on what's important to people in this district."

That includes, Lancman says, reducing the burden of college debt, easing access to capital for small businesses and making changes to the federal tax code.

"We have a tax system that honors wealth and not work so that Mitt Romney is paying a lower tax rate than either his or Warren Buffet's secretary," Lancman said.

Turner, through a spokesman, responded.

"Mr. Lancman is a New York clubhouse politician in the finest tradition of New York clubhouse politicians," said the spokesman, Bill O'Reilly. "We would be pleased to have a yearlong public discussion about what clubhouse politicians like Mr. Lancman have done to this state over the years. We welcome Mr. Lancman as a willing participant in that conversation."

The last assemblyman who ran against Turner, David Weprin, had trouble winning over Orthodox Jewish voters who disapproved of Weprin's vote for same-sex marriage and a floor speech he gave in favor of it, in which he invoked his Jewish religion.

Lancman, who is Jewish and also voted for the bill, said it's not likely to be an obstacle for him.

"I've never had a political problem with my vote for marriage equality," Lancman said. "It's a simple civil-rights issue. Whatever benefits, rights, privileges that the government is affording, it needs to afford equally."

"That is usually the entire sum and substance of the conversation," he said.

I asked Lancman about his federal donations, which went mostly to Democrats, with one notable exception: $500 to Al Gore in 1999, $500 for Russ Feingold in 2002, $250 to Dick Gephardt in 2003, $500 to Steve Israel in 2003 and $1,000 to ... John McCain in 2000.

Lancman said the donation to McCain came in response to what happened in the South Carolina primary that year.

It "was so disgraceful and dishonorable to me that the only thing I could do as a Democrat not participating in the Republican primary, to register my utter disgust with the Bush-Karl Rove tactics was to give that contribution to McCain," Lancman said. "I was particularly galled. I served in the military myself, thankfully during peacetime, and John McCain, not just being a veteran, but a war hero, the way that he was treated ... was so despicable."

"I guess I wanted to show him a little love when he needed it back in 2000," he said.

Lancman did not give any money to Barack Obama's campaign, or, for that matter, to Weprin's congressional campaign. I asked whether there was a reason for that.

"No, not at all," he said. "When David ran, I endorsed him within minutes of learning he would be our nominee. I tweeted it, [which is] the way endorsements are done nowadays. [He laughed.] And of course I voted for him and they used my name in literature as they saw fit."

He told me he'd been reluctant to endorse Obama in 2008 because, he said, "I was very, very very concerned about what Obama's policies would be as it relates to Israel."

He reminded me of an interview I had done with him in the last cycle (video below) in which he explained that he was a Hillary supporter, but would back Obama once he got the nomination.  And he said, "I didn't donate to Hillary either. Politicians giving to politicians is not, you know..."

He left it at that.