Alec on HuffPo: The Mighty Quinnberg
18th March 2013
How do I convey this without offending the gay community, or women who are supportive of more women in politics, or those who believe that Michael Bloomberg was a great mayor for New York? It may be impossible, but here goes.
Christine Quinn is not qualified to be mayor of New York.
I know. She was so strong on the marriage equality issue. And New York City has never had a woman mayor before and if not now, when? New York appears to be “greener” than ever before and crime is down. Or so I’m told. As Bloomberg leaves office, he leaves a city that is more polarized than ever by issues of wealth, taxes and how much a city such as New York owes its residents versus what it owes the wealthy corporations that define it as much as its people. However, he also leaves a city that many believe is in pretty good shape, considering the economic buffeting it has taken, along with the rest of the country, over the past five years.
Or, is there a connection here? Is New York a place now so wholly overwhelmed, in a political context, by the demands, whining and blackmail of wealthy individuals and corporations that we accept reports that New York is doing well only when the climate for the very rich is favorable?
Where do the concerns of New Yorkers making below $100,000 a year fit into the policies of the past twelve years?
To assess Quinn is to reassess Bloomberg, as Quinn, by her thought, word and deed, is Bloomberg 2.0. We all remember when Bloomberg, a self-made man who seems to have forgotten what the essence of a self-made man is, told New York, and the world, that in the wake of the economic crash of 2008, we needed him to steer us through that fiscal storm. Never mind that voters had implemented explicit term limits for Bloomberg and his time was up. Never mind that Bloomberg could easily have volunteered his precious financial advice to the city he served for two previous terms without upending those term limits. Bloomberg, it might be assumed, was thinking of running for President in 2012 and better to run for that office as mayor than ex-mayor.
Quinn, whose political ambitions have always left little doubt that she would eventually seek the mayoralty, was Bloomberg’s handmaiden. Like the murder of Luca Brasi in The Godfather, Bloomberg simply diverted people’s attention from the dangers of killing a voter approved referendum, at times by giving money from his charitable operation to literally buy the silence of potential term limits advocates. But the garotte around the throat of term limits was wielded by Quinn.
Quinn basically had a deal with Bloomberg that he would support her and, as such, is clearly presenting herself now as pro-business, while walking and talking her way across the five boroughs as a populist. Therefore, Quinn has positioned herself uncomfortably over the issues like paid sick leave. The backlash on the sick leave issue has already cost her the support of Cynthia Nixon (one of the stalwarts on marriage equality) and may cost Quinn the support of Gloria Steinem as well, as women are perceived to suffer disproportionately without sick leave reform.
Quinn is married to her partner, Kim Catullo, yet appears to bat her eyelashes for one man, Ray Kelly, New York’s police commissioner. “Stop and Frisk” procedures are sure to be a hot topic in the mayor’s race, and Quinn wants to be seen as tough on crime. “Stop and Frisk” may be effective anti-crime policy, but it is also anti-U.S. Constitution to a lot of rather vocal political figures in the City and beyond. Quinn appears not to care.
Term limits aren’t the only thing Quinn killed. She assisted in bringing down the only hospital trauma facility in the Greenwich Village area when she helped St. Vincent’s Hospital to close and sell to developers at Rudin Management, who then contributed to her campaign. Although some note that the St. Vincent’s deal ended up being the best of a bad situation, Quinn’s other marks regarding housing issues rank from wanting to downright deplorable. Quinn has been dogged by suggestions that she is too cozy, vis a vis a quid pro quo, with specific developers. Quinn backed Jamestown Properties in their bid to build on top of the Chelsea Market in Quinn’s neighborhood, over fierce opposition from her own constituents. Jamestown then pledged money to the High Line project, who, in turn, contributed to Quinn. Some say Quinn is also stepping over dollars to save pennies regarding her opposition to the HASA For All Act, which expands housing benefits to more New Yorkers with AIDS.
Democratic opponents of Quinn point to her deflection of issues related to tax increases, assuming that Quinn will continue Bloomberg’s program of demonizing any new taxes on some of the country’s wealthiest citizens. However, Bloomberg did raise taxes, after 9-11, in order to offset the cost of the avalanche of emergency services and public assistance the attack created. Some candidates believe it’s time to raise taxes again in order to address the needs of New York’s chronically underperforming school system. According to the New York Times on January 15th, Bill DeBlasio wants new tax money to address the significant gap in early child care with which public school parents must contend. Quinn said in the article that funding for her education spending would come from “redirecting existing Department of Education financing.” What good are all of those jobs that Quinn claims she will manifest in New York in the coming years if you have no where to send your young children to learn during the day? Those programs cost money. Quinn is nothing if not vague on where that money will come from.
Another issue that has arisen is Quinn’s use of a slush fund that she controls and doles out to Council members as unrestricted, discretionary “member items.” The good old Village Voice reported this story and the scandal doesn’t seem to be going away. Bloomberg promenaded around New York and dispensed his own cash to buy three elections (the New York Times reported here that Bloomberg spent over $250 million of his personal money on three elections), to gild his reputation as a steely management type and to upend the voter referendum that would have forced him to run for president in 2012 from an office in Bermuda. Quinn doesn’t have that kind of bank account, yet she has found a convenient source of grease for the skids of her own track to take Gracie mansion. Quinn is simply happy to spend the taxpayers’ money to buy influence.
Quinn offers a ray of hope on the issue of homelessness, backing a plan by Coalition for the Homeless director Mary Brosnahan to move homeless New Yorkers more effectively into public housing. However, homeless rates in New York are at an all time high while Quinn has led the Council.
Even if Quinn got on her knees and begged forgiveness for the murder of the term limits law, I still regard her as too compromised to become mayor. She is clearly viewed as the frontrunner and many New Yorkers seem downright medicated by the prospect of an openly gay woman as mayor of the “The City.” (The New York Times seems to be bending over backwards in their adulation of Quinn, covering her official announcement in March 11th’s paper with a photo spread that can best be described as a proud parent’s album.)
But as Mike Lupica asked in the Daily News, also on March 11, who cares who the front runner is in March? And none other than Ruth Messinger commented in the Times on January 10 that “New York women don’t vote on the basis of gender.”
Recently I reread Ed Koch’s obituary in The Times, realizing that the pendulum does indeed swing in New York mayoral politics, just like everywhere else. Abe Beame oversaw the ruination of the City’s finances. Koch came in and did great work to right that fiscal ship. But by the end of his third term, another economic crash and racial divisions that Koch was unprepared to deal with engulfed New York. Enter David Dinkins. Dinkins once told me, in his own words, that the unions expected more from him. “If they wanted six percent and I gave them three and a half, I had betrayed both sides. With Rudy, they expected nothing, so two and a half percent was a gift.” One term for Dinkins, a gentleman to a fault, and out. Enter Giuliani, reshaping the mayoralty to fit his skill set; which meant catching people doing bad things. New Yorkers have always placed crime high on their agenda. Giuliani, a racially tone deaf and essentially unsophisticated man in a city possessing great cultural resources and ethnic diversity, just kept the fear level high and earned two terms.
Then Bloomberg for twelve years. Twelve years of a more muted version Koch’s cloying “How’m I doin’?” but emanating from a man who could care less what the public’s response was while he hired a chorus of sycophants to provide the answer he sought.
I have known a lot of rich people in my life. And the self-made ones fall into two groups. Those who have money and learn to think and behave like a rich person (fear of change) and those who remain the same person they were before, but they just wait in shorter lines.
As the pendulum inevitably swings again, New York needs a mayor who is three things: one who truly possesses middle class values (whether they be middle class or not), one who is uncompromising in their integrity and one who can genuinely stoke the ineffable spirit that defines New York. A spirit of diversity that says come as you are. A spirit of community that says all for one and one for all, yet encouraging an opinionated, muscular individuality. A great New Yorker once told me “If you are truly one in a million, there are seven other people like you in this town. You can form a club.”
In a forthcoming post, I want to tell you why Bill de Blasio is that New Yorker.
Originally posted on the Huffington Post: 03/18/2013 12:09 pm