With Republican Bob Turner clinging to a narrow lead over Democrat David Weprin in New York’s 9th Congressional District, little-known Christopher P. Hoeppner of the Socialist Workers Party could be a major factor in the outcome of Tuesday’s hotly-contested special election to replace disgraced former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner.
According to a Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey released Sunday night, Turner holds an improbable 47 percent to 41 percent lead over Weprin, a state assemblyman, in the traditionally-Democratic district encompassing much of Queens and parts of Brooklyn. President Obama carried the district with 55 percent of the vote in 2008.
Hoeppner, a machine operator inspector in an electronics factory in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, received 4 percent in the PPP survey — a significant showing for the tiny SWP.
More than 7 percent of the district’s voters remain undecided as the widely-watched campaign entered the home stretch.
The son of a New York firefighter, the 61-year-old Hoeppner grew up in Woodside, then a predominantly Irish-Catholic neighborhood in Queens. Involved in left-wing politics for forty years, he joined the Socialist Workers Party — or more precisely, the Young Socialist Alliance — when he was still in high school and actively participated in the antiwar movement during Vietnam.
Hoeppner, who ran for mayor of Seattle in 2005 before returning to his New York roots, has been waging a whirlwind campaign throughout the district, beginning with a Herculean petition drive over the Fourth of July weekend, a monumental task that resulted in 7,080 signatures on nominating petitions — more than twice the number required — to place his name on the ballot.
Despite uncomfortably, if not painfully, hobbling around on crutches — the result of recently breaking his foot while returning home from work one evening — the low-key yet determined socialist has been campaigning like a man on a mission ever since.
In addition to showing solidarity with striking Verizon workers and participating in a strike organized by employees at the five-building Dayton Beach Park housing complex, the ubiquitous Socialist Workers Party candidate — cast and all — has appeared in no fewer than three debates with his major-party rivals, including a late evening debate with the lavishly-financed Weprin and Turner in the Rockaways last Thursday night.
Unlike the wealthy Turner, a retired advertising and cable television executive, and Weprin, a Wall Street favorite who once served as deputy superintendent of the New York State Banking Commission and chairman of New York’s Securities Industry Association, Hoeppner describes himself as the “only working-class candidate in the race.”
As such, he differs sharply from his opponents on the key pocketbook issues facing voters in the district.
“We’re in a depression,” he told Battleground Blog, adding that the only economic recovery following the financial collapse of September 2008 has been a one-dimensional recovery for the affluent. “There hasn’t been a recovery for working people,” he contends. “In fact, things are getting worse.”
Working people didn’t create this economic crisis, he continued, but they’re the ones who are bearing the brunt of its devastating effects in terms of long-term unemployment, hospital closings, teacher layoffs and reduced hours and benefits in the workplace.
Many jobs could be created by enacting a shorter workweek without reductions in pay for existing workers, explained Hoeppner.
“The Democrats and Republican politicians say putting workers back in jobs will cost a tremendous amount of money,” he said during a recent campaign stop. “But the truth is that the labor of working people creates wealth, all the wealth. So let’s put the jobless to work building and repairing basic infrastructure working people need.”
Hoeppner also wants to strengthen and expand the nation’s social safety net. “Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security are totally inadequate,” he told a weekly newspaper. “We need a massive struggle to not only defend these programs, but to expand them.”
Hoeppner, who could very well poll the difference between Turner and Weprin in Tuesday’s special election, acknowledges that he’s waging an uphill battle. Then again, he says, that’s precisely what the working people in Queens and Brooklyn are facing everyday — an uphill battle.
“They need a fighter in Washington,” he said.