NEW YORK (PIX11)—Republican candidate Bob Turner -- who's running for the 9th district Congressional seat vacated by former Rep. Anthony Weiner after his sexting scandal -- is defending his use of the burning Twin Towers in a campaign ad targeting Democratic rival, David Weprin.
In the ad, Turner attacks Weprin -- and President Obama -- for supporting the right of a Muslim group to build a mosque near Ground Zero. When asked if the image of the flaming towers was insensitive, Turner responded to PIX 11, "I think it's more insensitive to try and build a mosque." Turner added, "This is a sore point. This area (the 9th Congressional district) lost a number of people."
Turner is following in the steps of Missouri Republican Roy Blunt, who was criticized for using the mosque issue in a campaign ad last year, when he was running against a Democratic incumbent for the U.S. Senate. Blunt pulled the ad -- and he was eventually elected to the Senate. Turner said he had no intention of pulling his spot, which is running on cable channels in Brooklyn and Queens. "Let them say what they want," Turner told PIX 11. "We're going to run this election honestly and squarely and let the chips fall where they may."
Democratic Assemblyman, David Weprin -- Turner's opponent for the Congressional seat -- said of the ad, "I was totally disgusted by it." He told PIX 11 outside his campaign headquarters in Forest Hills, "I have friends that died in 9/11, and at this point, to bring that up, I thought was very inappropriate." Weprin said the U.S. has "freedom of religion, and they have a legal right to build a mosque."
This was Turner's first TV ad, being aired before the September 13th special election for Weiner's seat, which happens to be two days after the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks. When we asked Turner, a former TV executive, if perhaps the debate should be geared toward the struggling economy, he acknowledged people are probably more worried about their financial situation than the mosque. "It is the principle issue right now," Turner said, "jobs and the economy and the lack of leadership in Washington." He said he believes the economic concerns of his constituents would drive votes his way.
Weprin, for his part, said, "In the City Council, I fought very hard to help small businesses affected by the aftermath of 9/11" and he said he lobbied for the Zadroga Health Care law. Weprin added, "I'm fighting to preserve Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. He's taking a Tea Party position of no taxes, under any circumstances."
A large strategy board in Turner's Howard Beach campaign headquarters acknowledged a Siena poll showing he's six points behind Weprin. A note on the board said, "32 days left. Close the gap."
When we visited a Howard Beach senior center, after Turner made a campaign stop there, a couple of older voters said they didn't like the idea of the burning towers in the TV ad. "What he should do is talk about what he intends to do, more than the past," remarked Connie Pionegro, a senior citizen from Ozone Park.
Lou Mascaro observed, "I don't like when people use stuff like that. I don't like it at all." Yet Mascaro said he would be open-minded about the candidates and their positions on other issues.
Billy Santoro, a fisherman in Howard Beach, didn't seem bothered by the TV ad. "He's got to do what he's got to do," Santoro told PIX 11.