In what is likely to be a hard fought contest down to the final hours, veteran City Councilwoman Christine Quinn, the Chelsea Democrat, is battling Brooklyn Councilman Bill de Blasio for election as the City Council’s next speaker on Wednesday, January 4.
This is not the sort of race where the electors—the 51 members of the Council—are doing a lot of polling, constituent listening tours, or perusal of newspaper editorials. The voting patterns tend to break down along borough lines, with Council delegations from each consulting amongst themselves and with their county Democratic organizations to see which contender promises to fold in their members and their concerns in charting the future leadership structure.
With close ties to outgoing Speaker Gifford Miller, a Manhattanite, Quinn is likely to do well with her home borough colleagues. De Blasio is hobbled by the recent disarray in the Brooklyn organization, and pundits say the final outcome will likely turn on how the highly disciplined Queens and Bronx party organizations come down in their choices.
Much of that is far too inside baseball for our consideration here. The point we wish to make is that Quinn, as both an outstanding progressive and as the senior member of the Council, merits election to this important post.
Quinn has many strengths to offer. Prior to her election to the Council in 1998, she served as a tenant’s rights organizer, chief of staff to then-Councilman Tom Duane (now in the State Senate), and as the executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project. Her strengths as an advocate have been apparent on the Council. She was vital in getting the Council not only to pass an Equal Benefits Law that would require city contractors to give their gay and lesbian employees partner benefits on parity with those offered to workers’ spouses, but also to override a veto by Republican
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and to mount a court challenge to his unwillingness to implement the law.
Her influence on Speaker Miller, with whom she has a very tight political bond, was clear in his priorities during the past four years. Just months after assuming his post in early 2002, he broke a years-long logjam on civil rights protections for transgendered New Yorkers. Miller also held together the Council super-majorities need to override mayoral vetoes not only on the Equal Benefits Law, but on an anti-bullying measure, the Dignity in All Schools Act, as well. Miller elevated the post of speaker in ways not reflected in his meager performance in the September mayoral primary, and Quinn is well-poised to carry on as a vital counterweight to a mayor no longer constrained by re-election concerns.
With the departure of Councilmembers Philip Reed and Margarita Lopez, the Council’s gay and lesbian caucus is down to its lowest level since 1997—only Quinn and newly elected Lower East Side Councilwoman Rosie Mendez are openly lesbian or gay. With community agenda items still incomplete and a pressing need to hold Bloomberg to his promise to lobby for gay marriage rights in Albany, we need Christine Quinn as City Council speaker.