Moving to City Hall to Tackle Education, with a Lady Gaga Soundtrack
As Mark Weprin racked up endorsements from elected officials and union heads in his Council race in Eastern Queens, his opponents criticized him for getting as far as he has for one reason: his last name.
Weprin entered politics by succeeding his father, Saul, who briefly served as Assembly speaker, and when he decided to trade the Capitol for City Hall, he quickly moved to the front of the race to take over from his brother David.
“I like to think that my family and the fact that I’m so deeply rooted makes me a better legislator,” he said. “I’ve become much more thick-skinned over the years. Time passes.”
In the Assembly, he boasted an almost perfect attendance record, and set out to build coalitions across the aisle and with members from upstate.
“When he talks in conference, or on the floor of the Assembly, people listen, because he doesn't speak if he doesn’t have anything to say,” said senior Assembly Member John McEneny. “I think he has that institutional memory that goes beyond his own service.”'
He will be arriving in the Council, however, with the reputation of someone who brings levity to legislating.
One Assembly colleague, who wished to remain anonymous, remembered the time that he and Weprin baffled Michael Fitzpatrick, the chamber's most conservative member, by switching the two buttons on his desk: normally red for no, and green for yes. As Fitzpatrick tried to vote ‘no’ over and over again, his vote kept coming up on the screen as a ‘yes.’
During the campaign, Weprin was also criticized for wanting to trade his Assembly seat for a local one just so he could spend less time commuting. It is not a charge that he wholly denies. He and his wife have two sons, 13 and 10, and a 19-month-old daughter, and Weprin’s favorite books and music—Harry Potter, The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Lady Gaga—attest to his priorities.
“I used to like The Clash,” he said apologetically. “I listen to Top 40 with my sons... um, the Sesame Street soundtrack in the car?”
But as a politician, his immersion in the world of kids has also made Weprin a champion of local schools. He ran for Council partly to have a greater voice on education in his district. He is strongly opposed to the new emphasis on standardized testing and wants to give school superintendents more control over their districts.
“What’s upsetting to me is that they’re not necessarily learning information, they’re learning how to give the right answers,” he said, remembering how one of his sons explained the best strategy–when in doubt, choose C. “Why are we guessing? We’re guessing to help the teachers, the principal, the chancellor and the mayor.”
Meanwhile, Weprin has still been texting back and forth eagerly with some his fellow first-termers, and is excited to talk to the rest at the upcoming meet-and-greet freshman dinner.
“It’s almost like going away to college versus going to a commuter school,” Weprin joked. “It’s that first-day-of-school feeling, even though I’ve visited the school on numerous occasions. I’ve even audited some classes there.”