Will Christine Quinn Become NYC’s Next Mayor?
Calling it "the worst-kept secret in City Hall," the New York Times reported late last month that Mayor Michael Bloomberg would endorse City Council Speaker Christine Quinn for mayor in 2013. And although Quinn has been prominently featured in the media coverage of marriage equality and other issues, LGBT New Yorkers have very diverse opinions about whether she is the best choice to succeed the billionaire in City Hall.
"I think she personifies cronyism in worst possible way," said activist Earl Plante. "She is not a progressive in any sense of the word. It says a lot that Bloomberg would support her and is anointing her as his heir apparent."
Some wonder whether the support of a mayor whose approval rating is at a six-year low means anything at all. But according to that Aug. 28 Times article, while Bloomberg is only permitted to donate $4,950 to a candidate in the 2013 campaign, his influence as a fund raiser and political ally would prove invaluable to Quinn.
Precedence bears that these mayoral nods do carry weight.
Then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s belated endorsement of Bloomberg in 2001 was enough for the billionaire businessman to win the election-ditto of former Mayor Ed Koch’s endorsement of David N. Dinkins in 1989.
Quinn faces several potential Democratic challengers-including Public Advocate Bill de Blasio; Comptroller John Liu and former Comptroller William Thompson, Jr. None, however, has the public recognition that Quinn does. And none has an apparent nod from Bloomberg.
It is this with Bloomberg that many see as Quinn’s Weakness, pointing most often to her support of the mayor’s controversial plan to extend the city’s term-limits law from two to three terms in 2008. Critics have also pointed to her record on corruption and the Council’s slush fund scandal that erupted under her watch in 2008.
"My issues are not with Quinn as a person, it’s with Bloomberg as a policy maker," said attorney Yetta Kurland, who ran against Quinn for the City Council in 2009. "A good example of where I came up against Quinn politically was on term limits extension. That’s something that was put forward by Bloomberg. Unfortunately, she has not been able to stand up to him on issues that are important to basic Democratic principles."
Among these issues, said Kurland, is Quinn’s codifying of the New York Police Department’s new policy that mandates that groups with more than 50 people must obtain a permit to protest. She described this regulation as "antithetical and unconstitutional."
Kurland also criticized Quinn for what she said was a lack of leadership in the fight to open a hospital on the site of the former St. Vincent’s Hospital in her Council district. "She has a different type of politics, almost exactly opposite to mine," said Kurland. "Whereas my interests are in making sure everyone has a seat at the table, she seeks to be a real power broker, and to advance the cause by advancing her position."
Kurland: Quinn Is "Subjugated" to Bloomberg
While Kurland stressed that she had nothing negative to say about Quinn as a person, she speculated that perhaps Quinn had discovered early on that the only way to advance politically as an open lesbian was to align herself with powerful men.
"She has aligned with Bloomberg and is subjugated to him," elaborated Kurland. "There are a number of elected officials who do what she does, and too often they are the rule and not the exception of politics. What is unusual is to find a politician who can truly build a grassroots model and consensus."
Longtime Chelsea resident Penny Landau viewed the battle to save St. Vincent’s as a clear example of Quinn’s failings.
"I live right across the street from St. Vincent’s, and I didn’t see Quinn out there, and this is her district. Why were you not here trying to keep this hospital open? That’s where Rachel and Ross had the baby!" said Landau, in a moment of levity.
Landau turned more serious as she described Quinn.
"It’s not so much what she does; it’s the things she hasn’t done. The term limit thing was unconscionable," she said. "We didn’t want it, but they didn’t care what we wanted, it was all for their own aggrandizement. My view may be from the ’60s, but I think government should be there for the people. So I have to ask, are you there for us, or are you there for Christine Quinn? She doesn’t have another career to fall back on, and that to me is when you are going with the tide and with whoever will help you advance."
In Landau’s opinion, the tide has already turned.
"Every time I turn around, she’s on Cuomo’s arm like she used to be on Bloomberg’s arm," said Landau. "Every time you look at the paper, you see her picture. I find that interesting because Bloomberg’s out, and she is bellying up to the bar where Cuomo is concerned. When I look at Quinn, it’s like there’s nothing to be had from Bloomberg anymore, so now if you want to be mayor, you have to cozy up to Cuomo."
Landau feels Cuomo is a good governor, and was pleased that he made marriage equality a priority. Plante also acknowledged that Cuomo changed the face of marriage for same-sex couples in New York. He also pointed out that Quinn was always by his side.
"I think she has a long history of swooping in at the last minute and taking credit for things she had no hand in," said Plante. "She got a lot of credit for gay marriage, and was featured in lots of newspaper pictures, but behind the scenes, she was useless. She didn’t use her political capital when it was needed, but she swooped in and took credit for it during Pride week."
Plante said that in looking at Quinn’s policy record, one would see just how calculating the speaker is. "[She is] always looking to better position herself and her perception," she said. "It makes me question that when the chips are down, where will she be in moving our city forward?"
Quinn Hailed as Advocate for LGBT New Yorkers
Despite the political clout she has garnered, some LGBT New Yorkers still view Quinn as a tireless advocate those who remain on the margins.
Carl Siciliano, executive director of the Ali Forney Center, praises what he describes as Quinn’s unflagging commitment to the LGBT community. Siciliano first met Quinn in 1995 when she was as then-City Councilman Tom Duane’s chief of staff.
Siciliano was director of the Times Square drop-in center Safe Space. One of the homeless gay youth at the center was dating a 16-year-old. When he brought his older boyfriend home to meet his parents, they called the police and officers arrested him for statutory rape.
"I felt it was homophobic, this homeless kid going through that," said Siciliano. "But Duane put Quinn on it, and she called me twice a day for weeks to resolve this. I was really impressed by how fierce she was in her efforts to get this kid released from prison."
Fast-forward to 2004, when Siciliano was struggling to provide beds for the homeless LGBT youth at the newly formed Ali Forney Center. He tried talking to elected officials and even showed them the 1,000-person waiting list for the shelter’s 12 beds.
"Quinn was the first one to give me the time of day," said Siciliano. "She took one look at the list and said it was unacceptable. She coordinated with then-Speaker Gifford Miller and got his LGBT liaison to work setting up appointments with council members to talk about this issue."
The City Council had secured $1.2 million in funding for shelter beds for LGBT youth by 2006 and also provided 70 new beds for these young people between 2005 and 2008. And although the mayor has proposed budget cuts every year since, Quinn has negotiated to restore the budget, which Siciliano said, "demonstrates her huge commitment to this unrepresented group."
"Without that strength and commitment, these kids would be hurt," he said. "When people say she does whatever the mayor wants, this needs to be seen as a counterpoint. I have no doubt that her commitment prevented hundreds of kids from being put out into the streets, where they would have suffered egregiously."
Quinn’s spokesperson Jamie McShane downplayed speculation over whether the speaker has sought the mayor’s endorsement--or even whether she is seeking to succeed him.
"Speaker Quinn has not asked for, nor has Bloomberg offered his support," McShane told EDGE. "Right now, she is focused on being the best speaker she can be at the Council."
While Siciliano and others continue to stand behind Quinn’s record, others question whether she has actually accomplished any tangible goals since she became speaker in 2006.
"I think we need a fresh perspective and new blood in City Hall," said Plante. "She is bought and paid for by business and Wall Street."
Although he favors Thompson, Plante also realizes that potential candidates usually get one shot in New York politics. He is loathe watering down the race, noting that in the case of contested Democratic primaries, things can get nasty and backfire as in the 2001 race between Fernando Ferrer and Mark Green.
Plante recognizes the historical importance of New York City having its first female, openly gay mayor; he also sees that Quinn’s identity politics do not outweigh her policy decisions.
"I think it’s a sign of our maturity as a community that just because someone’s gay it isn’t the be-all and end-all for our community," said Plante. "It’s a good sign that me and other folks will question her diligently on her policy prescriptions across the board. It’s a sign of our growth as a community that we’re not pigeonholed like we were 20 or 30 years ago."
"I resist the idea that anyone can represent the LGBT community, that our issues are diminished to identity politics," she said. "In the ’90s that was all we had, but we as a queer community have a substantial plurality that encompasses many realities. We need to resist getting pulled into a false dichotomy that just because we have an openly lesbian mayor, she is advancing LGBT issues."
Plante admitted that he would "hold my nose and vote for her if I have to," but he still has reservations as he pointed to Houston Mayor Annise Parker as an example of someone who is "competent and can get things done."
"But we’ve never had a woman mayor in New York, so I can see how it would be a legitimate victory if she pulls it off. But I feel sad that she’s the one to break that glass ceiling," said Plante. "It is long overdue, but it’s unfortunate that she’s the one to do it."