Quinn In the Hunt For Speakership

Chelsea lesbian Democrat among seven vying to succeed Gifford Miller

The other Democratic councilmembers vying for speaker who turned out for the event at Baruch College in Manhattan were Bill DiBlasio and Lewis Fidler of Brooklyn, Joel Rivera of the Bronx, and three from Queens—David Weprin, Melinda Katz, and Leroy Comrie.

Despite the intense competition for speaker, there were no fireworks at the forum where all the questions were posed by Doug Muzzio, a professor at the Baruch College of Public Affairs, on such nuts-and-bolts issues as land use, term limits, closing the budget gap, Council rules, pre-posting of the Council agenda, affordable housing, and funding city schools. In a lightning round, all of the candidates came out against allowing non-citizen legal residents of the city to vote in municipal elections.

The differences displayed by the seven hopefuls were more in terms of style. No one eliminated himself or herself with a major gaffe. All were knowledgeable. And all were mainly playing not to the crowd, but to their Council colleagues who have the only votes that count.

Quinn received the plaudits of the other candidates when a question was posed on health care.

“I’d ask Chris Quinn,” said Fidler of the Health Committee chair.

“She is our guru and a tiger on the issue of infant mortality,” said Comrie.

“Chris Quinn is our leader on health care,” said Katz.

Quinn was gratified and on substance used her time to condemn the state for imposing “tougher regulations than Bush” on those seeking to enroll in the Family Plus and Child Health Plus insurance programs.

Quinn has been on the Council longer than her competitors, having won a special election in 1999 to replace Tom Duane who was elected to the State Senate and allowed under provisions of the term limits law to serve two full four-year terms, the second of which begins this coming January. She emphasized her “inclusive” style of leadership, bringing “all important stakeholders” on an issue together before moving forward as she did on the Equal Benefits Law, that would have guaranteed gay and lesbian employees of city contractors equal footing in terms of partner benefits and was passed by an override of Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s veto last year. With the mayor in court blocking its implementation, Quinn said that the issue demonstrates why the Council needs a legal team with the same bench strength as that of Bloomberg’s Law Department.

The forum attracted an overflow crowd of hundreds of political and civic leaders, but just a few members of the Council who will be selecting the speaker. None committed to a candidate.

Councilman Vincent Gentile, who survived a tough reelection contest for his Bay Ridge seat, hoped for a speaker from Brooklyn, but said, “They’re all good” and promised to announce his choice shortly. Councilman David Yassky of Brooklyn Heights wants a speaker who will make the Council “more decentralized and more effective.”

Councilman Oliver Koppel of Riverdale said, “The conversation reflected the fact that the Council is fairly uniform and consistent on major issues.” He felt the forum was “marginally helpful” in helping him make a decision. “I hope the Bronx will be united, maybe behind Joel Rivera as a favorite son,” he said.

Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union and the head of the Empire State Pride Agenda, said, “It’s great for democracy in the city to have this level of transparency for what is normally a very secretive process.”

Between now and the vote, borough delegations will see if they can unite behind candidates and then negotiate with other boroughs over who will get plum committee chairs in exchange for an alliance. Much of that will be done by county Democratic leaders.

Ken Sherrill, the first out gay elected official in the city when he was elected a Democratic district leader in 1977, said Quinn has “a good shot” at becoming speaker given that there is “no effective Democratic leader in Brooklyn” with the criminal conviction of former Assemblyman Clarence Norman and his recent replacement by Assemblyman Vito Lopez, and “three candidates in Queens.”

Quinn is the only candidate from Manhattan and the most senior member of the Council.

Sherrill, a Hunter College political science professor who was not at the forum, said of Quinn, “Everybody in the Council has a limited shot at getting what they want through. It requires a speaker who is a hard worker and knows the rules and understands professionalism. They know her. She is awfully strong on the merits.”

A transcript of the Speakers’ forum, co-sponsored by Baruch, the Citizens Union Foundation, and the League of Conservation Voters, can be found at gothamgazette.com/article/fea/20051121/202/1659/ .

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