Council contenders express interest after Mark Weprin’s resignation

By Tom Momberg

The sudden resignation of City Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) has triggered widespread interest from potential candidates for the northeast Queens seat.

A special election could mean the end to a 14-year Weprin dynasty over the Council seat that represents Oakland Gardens, Bayside Hills, Bellerose, Douglaston, Little Neck and Queens Village. Or it could mean more musical chairs between the councilman and his brother, Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows).

Mark Weprin announced Monday he plans to join Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s staff as deputy secretary of legislative affairs, a position to which he was appointed to serve as a liaison between Cuomo, the state Legislature and the City Council.

Weprin has been a City Council member since 2010, prior to which he was an assemblyman for 15 years.

“In the office of Gov. Cuomo, I will continue to serve the people of New York,” Weprin said in an emailed statement.

His brother, David Weprin, previously held the same Council seat from 2001 to 2009. He then won a special election to represent the Assembly’s 24th District in 2010, the same seat that Mark Weprin had occupied.

David Weprin was appointed as the secretary to the Assembly Majority Conference in April, so he told the TimesLedger he would remain in the state Assembly for the foreseeable future. But, at the same time, he also said he was considering running for his brother’s soon-to-be vacant Council position and that he would announce his decision soon.

“We’ve accomplished a lot in my time in the Assembly. At the same time, I was able to better serve a greater number of my constituents on the city level … I will announce whether or not I run in the next few days,” David Weprin said in the interview Wednesday.

Given Mark Weprin’s two-weeks notice, he will leave his City Council seat after Memorial Day weekend. The 23rd Council District will remain open for constituent services until a replacement is selected.

But the focus now has shifted to the other possible contenders for the Council seat.

Dominic Panakel, currently chief of staff to Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest), is rumored as a possible candidate, but he said he is not publicly stating interest in the seat as of now.

Barry Grodenchik, the Queens director of community boards and a former state assemblyman, announced his interest in running for the seat. Panakel, who previously worked as Grodenchik’s campaign manager as a candidate for borough president, probably will not run for the Council seat if Grodenchik does.

Ali Najmi, an attorney with his own private practice, is another rumored candidate. He could not be reached for comment.

A one-time candidate for the Bayside Council seat, Steven Behar confirmed his interest in Mark Weprin’s spot, but like several other special election hopefuls, he said it depends on the political landscape.

“I am certainly interested. I am always the happiest when I am in public service,” Behar said.

Bob Friedrich of Glen Oaks, a columnist for the Bayside Times who previously ran against David Weprin for the Assembly seat and Mark Weprin for the City Council, said he would jump into the ring again as long as his old opponent does not.

“I wouldn’t run against Weprin, because it’s not a level playing field: It’s a game you pay to play,” Friedrich said. “Personally, I think it would be outrageous for David Weprin to run. He would be circumventing the very term limits he voted for while in office.”

David Weprin said he would not exactly be taking advantage of a loophole. Though there was a limit of two terms for most of the time he served the City Council, the Council voted in 2008 to allow officials to run for three terms instead of two – the year before he left for Albany.

“This would not be the first time it’s happened either,” he said. “Right now, it is a question of where I can best serve my constituents.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio has three days to announce a special election after Weprin vacates his seat over Memorial Day weekend. The election will be held on the first Tuesday, at least 45 days after the resignation date, according to the rules for a special Council election pursuant to the City Charter.