Councilman and city comptroller candidate David Weprin claims he wasn’t offended when his younger brother, Assemblyman Mark Weprin, said at a recent press conference that he wasn’t running as “Mr. Personality.”
“I think I’m more exciting than he makes me out to be,” the older Weprin said. “I don’t take it seriously. He’s still a strong supporter.”
Weprin, with his Inspector Clouseau moustache and awkward manner, was sitting toward the back of his campaign headquarters, a long, filthy storefront at 250 West 54th Street crammed between a Subway sandwich stop and Studio 54, now showing “Waiting for Godot.”
“He meant that I’m by far the most qualified candidate for comptroller and you want somebody—you want that numbers guy, you don’t necessarily want a backslapper, dealmaking politician as comptroller,” said Weprin, hunching over a folding table covered with a cardboard box, itself covered with doodles and crumbs, which he mindlessly pressed with his fingers.
A few days later, the councilman’s consultant, Hank Sheinkopf, put it somewhat more aggressively: “New Yorkers should worry about boss-endorsed, colorful comptroller candidates. The last one was Alan Hevesi.”
This September, Weprin will face off against three Democrats in the primary for city comptroller, all of whom, to varying degrees, are better retail politicians: council members Melinda Katz and John Liu of Queens, and David Yassky of Brooklyn.
Just a couple of weeks back, Liu won the Queens County Democratic endorsement, which some political insiders say was Weprin’s to lose. After all, wasn’t it his father, Saul Weprin, who served as the so-called “affable speaker” of the Assembly before dying from a stroke in 1994? And haven’t Weprin and his brother been loyal Queens Democratic soldiers?
Weprin said he wasn’t angry that he lost that battle to Liu, a latecomer to the race who first publicly toyed with running for public advocate. In fact, Weprin said, one of his defining characteristics is his inability to hold a grudge.
A few minutes later, he recounted that comment to his wife Ronni, on speakerphone.
“Honey, what I said was what you criticized me for is something that other people think might be a quality. And that’s that I don’t hold grudges,” he said.
“Oh, it’s true,” said Ronni Weprin, who works on special events at Queensborough Community College.
“And, I tend to see, like, the best in people, which is not always a good political skill. Right?”
“Right,” Mrs. Weprin agreed. “It frustrates me terribly.”
The issue of Weprin’s ability to hold a grudge was not, mind you, the reason he called his wife during an interview with a reporter. Rather, he was trying to remember the last movie he’d seen in a theater, moviegoing one of the activities he’d identified as a hobby. (He only called his wife after first vainly flipping through the pages of two different newspapers, hoping the ads would jog his memory.)
“Yeah, hi, honey, I’m over here giving an interview and she asked what I do in my spare time and I mentioned I go to movies and she asked some of the movies we’ve seen recently and I thought, what have we seen?” Weprin said. “Oh Angels and Demons!’ That was great. We just saw Angels and Demons.’ I’m putting you on the speaker phone here. Yeah, Ronnie? … What other movies did we see?”
Mrs. Weprin: Well, unfortunately, we haven’t gotten to see too many movies lately.
Councilman Weprin: Well, before that we saw what?
Mrs. Weprin: That was the last movie we saw.
Councilman Weprin: What did we see before that? We saw a bunch before that.
Mrs. Weprin: Um.
Councilman Weprin: What was the one we saw in the Kew Gardens theater?
Mrs. Weprin: I Love You, Man.
Councilman Weprin: I Love You, Man. That was a cute—that was a cute movie. I Love You, Man. What was the one we saw in the Kew Gardens theater a few weeks ago?
Mrs. Weprin: Oh yeah, I like those Kew Gardens theater movies.
Councilman Weprin: Do you remember what movie it was …
Mrs. Weprin: We saw The Queen there, but that was a few years ago.
Councilman Weprin: We also saw that Indian one.
Mrs. Weprin: Slumdog Millionaire.
Councilman Weprin: Yeah … O.K. So Slumdog Millionaire, Devils and Demons.
Mrs. Weprin: Angels and Demons.
Councilman Weprin: Angels and Demons. O.K., um. Didn’t we just see a couple in Fresh Meadows?
Mrs. Weprin: We saw Angels and Demons in Fresh Meadows.
Councilman Weprin: Didn’t we see one the day before, or the day after?
Mrs. Weprin: No. No.
Councilman Weprin: All right, I’ll speak to you later, honey.
It’s one of the tiny tragedies of politics that applies in particular to the comptroller’s office: the person best suited for the job—the mandate centers on an ability to process data and make business judgments in an efficient and ethical manner, without showing favor to the many, many people who will suddenly want to be your friend—is quite likely to be a bad communicator, if not downright asocial.
Weprin certainly would seem to have the financial bona fides: After graduating from SUNY Albany and Hofstra Law School, he worked at the New York State Banking Board, serving as deputy superintendent of banks, and then underwrote municipal bonds at Wall Street investment banks like Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, Kidder Peabody & Co., and Paine Webber.
In the council, he served as chair of the Finance Committee, dealing in the nitty gritty of budget negotiations. He counts among his major accomplishments fighting the Water Board on double-digit water hikes, opposing bridge tolls and battling Mayor Bloomberg’s term-limits overhaul.
“Well, you know, my whole adult career has really been geared to the office of comptroller,” he said.
Were he to win the comptroller race, Weprin said he would consult more regularly than previous comptrollers have with financial experts and boardmembers, further diversify the pension portfolio investments, and explore more socially responsible investments, like divestment from funds that invest in Sudan and Iran, or from companies that don’t provide employee health insurance.
All of which are goals he said he’s the best qualified to achieve, in part because of that personality of his.
“That’s what my brother says. He says it’s good to be boring running for comptroller, he says. He says, my brother’s not the most exciting guy, but you don’t want the most exciting guy for comptroller.”