David I. Weprin is a familiar face in local politics, having served six terms since 2010, as our Assembly Member for the 24th District, covering a large swath of Queens along the Grand Central Parkway from the Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Glen Oaks, through Oakland Gardens, Fresh Meadows, and Jamaica Estates to Briarwood, roughly bordered by Hillside Avenue and Union Turnpike, and then into Richmond Hill. His campaign for New York City’s Office of the Comptroller should not come as a surprise, considering his expansive knowledge in the financial arena.
Weprin, a 1970 Yeshiva of Central Queens graduate, has led an effort to make available new funding for the yeshivah system and has been a leader in the fight with the coalition of yeshivah groups with talks at the Department of Education. These efforts include the voucher program, especially regarding daycare. A Holliswood resident, Weprin was educated in a yeshivah setting, much like his five children and his wife Ronni. He is actively involved with Jewish nonprofits, including the Queens Jewish Community Council (QJCC), Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty (MET Council), among others. More recently, he has been the Co-President of the National Association of Jewish Legislators.
Weprin has been a constant voice on both the city and state level, and pledges to continue using the bully pulpit of the Comptroller’s Office to voice convincing opinions and champion the rights of Orthodox Jews.
Weprin has united thousands of families through the Adoptee Bill of Rights, which allows an adopted child to access his or her birth certificate and medical history records upon turning 18 and sets precedents for birth parents to give a contact preference upon giving up their child for adoption. In another triumph, the Religious Garb Bill was designed to protect New Yorkers’ religious liberties, regardless of their creed.
QJL: You followed the path of your father Saul into politics. Let’s give our readers a background of your political career.
David I. Weprin: My father, a local lawyer, began as the president of the co-op Hilltop Village in Holliswood. He was elected to the State Assembly and rose to the Speaker of the State Assembly, spending 25 years in office. My mother, now 90, is a Cuban-Jewish immigrant who came to America at eight years of age with a fluency in Yiddish and Spanish. She went on to become a public school teacher. I am currently serving in the seat that both he and my brother Mark served.
Queens Jewish Link: How can we balance the city budget while so many are struggling to survive, dealing with the repercussions of the pandemic?
DW: There is no question about it, we need help from the federal government. The annual Patrick Moynihan study revealed the irrevocable truth of New York State and New York City contributing way more in taxes than we are getting back. We must fight the shortchange and equalize the ledger. There is a huge surplus, a contribution of billions that citizens pay, and it is time we got back our fair share.
New York City was the epicenter of the pandemic. We were hit the hardest and hit first in the nation. New York must receive federal aid, because if New York goes bankrupt, then the ripples will be felt throughout the whole country. It is my hope that aid will come; it will not be enough, but it is an important part of the puzzle.
I would like to see new taxes that benefit the middle class; now is not the time to raise taxes on this vulnerable group. There is room for new taxes in new industries. Gambling is here in New York State. Both New York and New Jersey have sports betting, but New Jersey allows for betting on phone applications that garner hundreds of millions in revenue, profits that can be in the hands of New York. It is no secret that many go over the George Washington Bridge to place bets. We are losing this revenue – it is almost silly. State Senator Joe Addabbo has put forth legislation on this matter that I have supported.
There is also a push for millionaires’ tax – a search for revenue from those on the high end. If such a measure is put forth, we must ensure that such a program does not encourage New Yorkers to flee the State.
Another conversation is the stock transfer tax, also referred to as a tax on Wall Street. This option has proven to be avoidable by executing trades via other states, and in the end New York State will never collect funding. Such a tax will ultimately hurt the financial service industry.
To get through the hurdles ahead, we can borrow, tax our way, or rely on the federal government, but it should fall on the fiscal experts available in the city, possibly in the form of a summit, to work together on a plan that takes advantage of those who know best how to lead our region.
QJL: Small businesses have been tremendously hurt. There are also fees, fines, and regulations that hinder their progress. What is your plan to help them survive?
DW: There is a lot of waste in city government. I will work to find the issues and save money. The city has outside consulting contracts in the billions that can be trimmed, and in turn, city employees can take their place. It is not my plan to cut uniform services or teachers, as that will have a negative, long-term effect. I am a strong opponent of the “Defund the Police” movement. We need more police and community policing, and cannot risk public safety, quality of life, or businesses being jeopardized. The pandemic saw 1,200 police officers stepping down; it is not a time to cut back.
The comptroller signs contracts that often result in a huge delay in people getting paid, and ultimately delays services from reaching everyday people. I will work to avoid the red tape holding back small businesses and nonprofits from getting funding, and I will work to have a rent-based reduction commission.
QJL: What has changed since the last time you ran for this office, and what makes you uniquely qualified for the position?
DW: In 2009, we had three Queens candidates, and today it is only me, a fiscal moderate conservative. I am also the only candidate openly discussing outer borough issues and believe that it is vital for our economy to return to its glory. The field today is better for me and I want to address the quality of life issues plaguing Brooklyn and Queens. My strong support in the Orthodox and South Asian communities is, as well, encouraging.
QJL: How can rank choice voting help you? Is it a factor at all?
DW: The good thing about RCV is that it will eliminate a costly runoff. The bad thing is that the Board of Elections is just not ready. There were tremendously long early-voting lines, and many are concerned with the pandemic. People need to be trained and educated on how RCV works, especially with so many City Council races on the line next year. The program is simply a nightmare for the BOE and I support a delay to avoid complications.
QJL: How have you made Queens –
the most diverse urban area in the world – a better place to live, work, and raise a family for all?
DW: Our Assembly District is one of the most diverse, with a large Orthodox contingent. For my entire life I have been a member of the district as well as a member in the Young Israel of Holliswood and the Young Israel of Jamaica Estates. Our district also serves a large portion of the Latino public and the South Asian, Indian, Pakistani, Guyanese, and Bangladeshi communities. I have mastered balancing the values of all my constituents, and that experience of dealing with such a diverse district will be vital on a citywide scale.
Previous comptrollers have conducted ethnic events and have liaisons within each community. This is a tradition that I would continue and potentially expand to ensure that all our diverse communities are incorporated.
QJL: The comptroller deals with the City’s finances. What’s your financial background?
DW: I have extensive knowledge of dealing with the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis and the recovery following 9/11. At that time, the city had no rainy-day fund. Creating this measure, by locking away $2.5 billion, is one area we worked towards. The healthcare trust fund was an endeavor we undertook to use when we need to tap into and combat a billion-dollar defect, while ensuring retirees receive quality healthcare. This worked to deal with tough deficits and put us back on a successful track. During the Bloomberg era, I worked to apportion over $1 billion and brought it back to the homes of the middle class.
Under Governor Mario Cuomo, I was the Deputy Superintendent of Banks and Secretary of the Banking Board of New York State, where I watched over $2 trillion and helped regulate more than 3,000 financial institutions and financial service firms in the state, including international banking institutions, mortgage brokers, and bankers. Then I went back into public finance in the private sector at Paine Weber and Kidder, Peabody & Co., where I helped local governments raise the capital necessary for critical projects such as infrastructure, healthcare, and education, and served as Chair of the Securities Industry Association of New York. I dealt with debt issuance for the city and worked with major Wall Street firms while putting together bond issuance for schools and hospitals.
When I was in the New York City Council, I served as the Chair of the Council’s Finance Committee for eight years and was responsible for balancing the city’s budget, allocating millions of dollars for non-profit organizations, and ensuring that the City’s legislative priorities were fully funded.
QJL: The pandemic has left so many in shambles. What’s the path to rebuild? What roadblocks would you anticipate?
DW: The pandemic is the worst fiscal crisis the city has ever faced. We came out of the Wall Street crisis, the 9/11 multi-billion-dollar deficit, and we learned lessons from the financial crisis of the 1970s. We cannot just turn a switch to solve our problems; we must use experience to battle a crisis worse than the Great Depression.
In our effort to bring the economy back, we must put aside political considerations and look to the good news of strong pension funds, over $230 billion in five separate funds, and a solid stock market that is heavily invested in equities. We are diversified, allowing us to have the best returns on assets. My mother often asks about her future retirement fund and rests comfortably knowing that they are fine.
If at some point New York falls behind, we can offset these issues in the general budget and avoid a fiscal crisis for the city. I will find the hidden money and use the citywide bully pulpit along with my authority to conduct audits to keep us on track.
By Shabsie Saphirstein