Rep. Turner keeps his eye on Israel — and redistricting in New York

It would be hard to find a newer face in Congress than that of Rep. Bob Turner (R-N.Y.).

Still somewhat of a stranger even to the House freshmen, Turner triumphed in a political coup last fall to replace scandal-ridden former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D), whose Brooklyn-Queens seat had not been held by a Republican since 1923.

The news of Turner’s win was largely overshadowed in Washington by the Solyndra loan controversy and the launch of the House GOP’s fall agenda. In New York, however, stories ran for weeks.

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Recently, in the spacious Rayburn office he inherited from Weiner, Turner said of politics: “I’m not really in this business.

“I had never even attended a political fundraiser before,” he told The Hill. “I sent checks to people — that’s it.” 

Still, the lifelong Queens resident and retired media executive — he was a producer on “Jerry Springer” and “Baywatch” — was not totally green when he became the GOP nominee.

In 2010, he had mounted what he termed a “not exactly quixotic” run against the then-congressman, collecting 39 percent of the vote.

“In running media companies, you’re dealing with popular culture and popular psychology in a way that is not much different from politics,” he said.

“Still, we were well out of gas by those last two weeks of the [2010] campaign. When they really put the heat on, it didn’t turn out to be much of a contest.”

Soon enough, however, Turner saw he might not have to wait until 2012 for another opportunity.

“I watched [Weiner] on television and he said his [Twitter] account was hacked,” Turner said. “As soon as he said that, I knew where this was going … one way or another, he was not in good shape.”

The sexting scandal was the second to hit New York state’s House delegation during the 112th Congress: Rep. Chris Lee, a Republican from upstate, resigned last February after gossip site Gawker revealed he had sought an affair through Craigslist.

In both cases, the seats switched parties — Lee’s went to Democrat Kathy Hochul in May in what was largely seen as a rebuke of a Republican plan to reform Medicare, while Turner’s campaign hardened around his conservative approach to Israel.

Specifically at issue was a May 2011 speech by President Obama calling for Israel to return to its pre-1967 borders.

“I was interested in painting my opponent (Democratic State Assemblyman David Weprin) as a supporter of the president’s policy, which he was,” Turner said.

The campaign effectively made the link, and as a result Turner landed a heady endorsement from former New York City Mayor Ed Koch.

Koch, a Jewish Democrat who is heavily pro-Israel, said that in endorsing Turner, he wanted to “send a message to the White House.” 

Turner said the former mayor’s support helped sway the more secular Jewish community to his side.

A framed letter from Koch dated Sept. 2 — the day before the special election — hangs prominently in Turner’s office.

“It says: ‘I know you’re going to win,’” Turner said. “He was convinced, and so was I.”

Turner has continued to emphasize Israel during his first four months in the House.

During the most recent House recess, he traveled there as part of a delegation sponsored by an affiliate of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, visiting strategic sites and meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. 

“You’d think that with all of the problems they’re ringed with, it would affect their attitude,” he said.

“But at all levels, from the guy on the street to the government ministers, I saw confidence and optimism.”

He added that the troops and security checkpoints that defined the landscape a decade ago, during the second Palestinian uprising, have vanished.

“You could have been in Miami as you walk around,” he said.

Back in Washington on Wednesday, Turner voted with his GOP colleagues to pass a resolution disapproving Obama’s request for another increase in the debt ceiling.

But with the Senate expected to defeat it, the increase will likely take effect — even Turner called the vote “theater.”

“If you vote ‘no,’ [the debt limit] will be raised $1.2 trillion. If you vote ‘yes,’ it’ll be raised $1.2 trillion … this is just nonsense,” he said.

His two priorities now are to support future efforts for a federal balanced-budget amendment and to “be in the fight in ‘12.”

The second goal could prove challenging: Before the voters handed Turner his win, many believed the 9th district would be eliminated during the state’s redistricting process.

Those new maps have not been drawn, even in rough draft, but Turner said he is not concerned about the outcome.

“No matter where the lines end up, I’ll be ready to compete,” he said.