Quinn, New Speaker,
Elected with Support of Bosses,
Worked her way up in Politics,
Will Be Tested on Many Issues.
By Henry J. Stern
January 5, 2006
The selection of Christine
as Speaker of the Council illustrates the enduring power of political
leadership (bossism to its enemies), which has demonstrated greater strength
than misogyny and homophobia combined.
This in no way detracts from Ms. Quinn, who followed the Gifford Miller
playbook in making friends wherever she could, investing thousands of dollars
in the campaigns of her future constituency, and paying particular attention
to the maximum county leader, Tom Manton of Queens. Quinn did this
without neglecting the Bronx leader, Assemblyman Jose Rivera (father of the
Council's majority leader Joel Rivera), and the pillar of the Brooklyn Democracy,
Clarence Norman's newly-crowned successor, Assemblyman Vito Lopez.
Mr. Norman was an Assemblyman until his unfortunate felony conviction on
September 28. Norman’s Assembly seat was filled in November by Karim Camara
official of Norman’s father’s church.
lt is probably unfair to tar Ms. Quinn with the sins of these political
worthies. It should be known that none of the three current county
leaders has ever been indicted, much less convicted, of any crimes, whether
of violence, avarice or politics, and it was certainly necessary for her
to touch the three bases in order to reach home. If she had not done
that, the men could well have selected the aggressive Brooklynite, Bill
, an alumnus of Senator Hillary Clinton's office. De Blasio
built what he called "a multi-borough progressive coalition" in his effort,
and his tough approach positioned him to the left of Ms. Quinn, however unlikely
it appears that there was any room there for him to occupy.
Ms. Quinn's accession is noteworthy for several reasons: She is only
the third person to serve as Speaker (the title was the choice of Peter Vallone,
Sr.). It evokes the power of the Speaker of the House, or the Speaker
of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver, also of Manhattan. Silver, however,
has had twelve years to grow his power. Vallone had sixteen years as
speaker but Ms. Quinn will have but four, unless she can persuade the electorate
into allowing her to seek re-election. We predict the proposed coup
by self-extension will not survive the furious newspapers and civic groups,
and the promised mayoral veto. Save your political capital, Chris.
She is the first Irish-American Speaker, Vallone being Italian-American
and Gifford Miller a WASP
However, Vallone's predecessor, then styled 'majority leader and vice
chairman' of the Council, Thomas J. Cuite, was of Irish ancestry. Cuite
also despised homosexuality, and never allowed the Gay Rights Bill even to
come to a vote in the City Council, despite our efforts as co-sponsors of
the bill. He defied Mayor Koch on this issue, although the two generally
got along well. We state with as much certainty as can apply in these
matters, that Mr. Cuite would spin in his grave if he knew that, twenty years
after he left office, his successor would be an Irish lesbian.
It is arch to describe her as the first 'openly gay' speaker. The
two previous speakers, Vallone and Miller, are breeders and not closeted
gays. She is the first gay speaker, period. It is pointless to
prattle about her predecessors' predilections.
We have known Ms. Quinn for many years and respected her rise through the
toils of local politics. Our fondest memory of her came at a ceremony
on June 7, 2001
in which Mayor Giuliani announced that he would fund the completion of the
Chelsea Recreation Center, whose construction had been abandoned a quarter-century
before as a casualty of Fiscal Crisis I (Mayor Beame's cross to bear).
For years successive generations of Chelsea politicians pleaded for the
Recreation Center to be finished, but without success. Even with Democratic
mayors, the radical community leaders had no clout. Seven months before
he was to leave office (and three months before 9/11) Mayor Giuliani listened
to the pleas of his Community Affairs Commissioner, supported enthusiastically
by his Parks Commissioner, and accepted a modest estimate of the project's
cost and time of completion. Giuliani ordered work to begin under the
auspices of the Department of Design and Construction. DDC designed
buildings, we did parks and playgrounds. The work began.
When Councilmember Quinn was informed of Mayor Giuliani's decision, she
could not have been more pleased or surprised. There was no political
reason for the mayor to do it, Chelsea was not friendly territory, and the
project couldn't be completed before he left office. The progressive
legislators from that district had absolutely no influence at City Hall,
their exhortations, if made, might even have a negative effect. The
building had been a leaking wreck for 25 years, used only for document storage.
Of course, we invited Christine to the ceremony (it was her district). She
was naturally and unabashedly joyful at the event, and gracious and appreciative
to Mayor Giuliani, who made the totally unexpected decision. That day,
Christine earned her place as a public official who was big enough to accept
good news, not try to steal it or spin it, not to be obsessed by past disagreements,
but simply to relish the day and event. Like Zorba
, she enjoyed life.
We were there, together again, on May 11, 2004
when Mayor Bloomberg and Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe cut the ribbon on
the building that Mayor Giuliani had begun. Christine was as pleased
and generous on that occasion as she was on the morning she received the unexpected
call to go directly to Chelsea Rec (BTW, it's at 430 West 25th Street).
From those days and other encounters, we know her to be a kind and decent
person, who has not yet let the travails and vicissitudes of climbing the
greasy pole make her into a political robot or a calculating machine.
We hope she keeps her freshness and open-minded attitude as she deals with
the issues that lie ahead.
Probably the most important thing for Christine Quinn to remember is that
the Council is her major constituency, but it is by no means her only constituency.
She has a responsibility to other people and their enterprises which are not
represented by the ambitious activists who inhabit the Council. As
the second highest public official in a city of eight million people, she
should feel obliged to help as many of them as she can through rational public
policy decisions, not simply to accommodate the political structure from
which she emerged. Last, if you want to be mayor, or anything else,
the best way to get the job is by being a good speaker, not by spending four
years campaigning for higher office. Do not weigh each decision in
the light of your own ambitions. That doesn't work.
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