By Adam Kramer
Amassing an estimated 77 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary for the Council District 23 seat, David Weprin crushed political newcomer Jairam Thakral in the race to succeed longtime City Councilman Sheldon Leffler (D-Hollis).
Thakral, a South Asian, said he believed he was hurt by the World Trade Center disaster, which made some voters reluctant to cast their ballot for him.
Weprin now faces Philip Sica, 66, a retired city marshal and pastor who worked for the city for 24 years, in the Nov. 6 election.
“I feel great,” he said in a telephone interview. “I think the final numbers are going to be around 80 percent. I think I will have the highest vote count and the highest percentage in all of Queens’ council races.”
Weprin said he would resume his campaign over the weekend and wanted to go out into the district to meet and get to know the people he hopes to represent in the City Council better.
Weprin, 44, part of a political dynasty, is the son of the late state Assembly Speaker Saul Weprin and the brother of state Assemblyman Mark Weprin (D-Bayside).
He garnered 77 percent of the vote, while Thakral, the former chief financial officer of the Long Island State Veterans Home at SUNY Stonybrook, only received 23 percent, according to an unofficial count compiled by the Associated Press.
The New York City is still counting the election’s paper ballots and cannot declare a winner.
“I think I did pretty good for a first timer,” Thakral said. “I think the tragedy of Sept. 11 hurt me.”
He said people told his poll workers they would have voted for him on Sept. 11 but not on Sept. 25, when the primary was rescheduled. Thakral said many voters could not handle the fact he is South Asian, but he is a proud American who plans to run for political office again.
Sica could not be reached for comment.
Weprin attributed part of his strong showing to attracting a large number of South Asian voters, which ate into Thakral’s voter base. Weprin said he did better than expected with the South Asian vote, which he believes was split between the two candidates.
Leffler was forced to give up the seat, which stretches from Glen Oaks to Hollis and from Little Neck to Queens Village, after 27 years due to the new term limits law. The law prevents an elected city official from serving more than two consecutive terms in office.
“A lot has changed since Sept. 11,” Weprin said, referring to the attack on the World Trade Center. “Prior to Sept. 11 education and money for the school districts — 26 and 29 — were the main priorities. Those are still important, but more emphasis has to be placed on public safety and maintaining the Fire Department and the Police Department in light of the tragedy.”
He said it was now more important then ever to fairly compensate both firefighters and police officers. Weprin said he wants the city to increase their pay to scale to the level paid to their contemporaries in the suburbs of Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester.
In addition, Weprin said the next step for New York City was to get the economy moving forward and back on track.
Political observers have mentioned Weprin as a possible successor to Council Speaker Peter Vallone (D-Astoria), who must step down because of term limits.
Weprin said he is not actively seeking the nomination but would accept the speakership if it was available. If Queens’ 14 freshmen council members can maintain a strong coalition and vote as a block, he said, there is the opportunity for a Queens’ council member to succeed Vallone.
“I am fairly optimistic that we will be able to keep the 14 council members as a delegation,” he said.
Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.