She could be the city’s first woman and openly gay mayor, but her record doesn’t line up with most progressives
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has announced her bid to become the first women and the first openly gay mayor in New York City history. She’s widely assumed to be the favorite in the primary, which means she’s favored in the general election, too. But I have to admit, I’m surprised that progressives support Quinn so much – I’ve never thought of her as much of a liberal.
Her presumed advantage largely consists of support from liberal New Yorkers, who make up about 50% of the primary’s electorate. Quinn, per the latest Marist poll, is winning 43% of them in the primary, her best numbers among any ideological group. Those strong figures help put her at 37% overall – just three points away from the 40% required to avoid a runoff.
At a glance, this all makes sense. She’s openly gay, and was so long before a majority supported gay marriage, and long before any sort of legal unions between same-sex couples. I can’t deny that there’s something quite progressive about that.
Yet on the whole, Quinn’s positions are not liberal for New York City. She’s been an ally to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who’s defeated three Democratic candidates in a row. Nobody would call Bloomberg a conservative on social issues, though he’s certainly an economic one. Quinn, meanwhile, has almost always supported his causes. That bill that let Bloomberg run for a third term, even though voters had voted for term limits? Quinn helped usher it in. Of the 333 bills brought before the city council in 2011, Quinn and Bloomberg disagreed on only 5% of them.
To gauge her record, an academic scorecard would come in handy, but they don’t exist for New York City politicians like they do for state legislatures or Congress. There are, however, advocate group scorecards, which capture legislators’ positions fairly well.
The Human Rights Project at the Urban Justice Center (HRP) publishes an annual report of all New York City councilmembers, in which they grade politicians’ records on rights: civil, cultural, economic, political and social. A high score indicates a progressive record, while a low one says the opposite. All the Republicans on the 2011 scorecard received a C or worse. The average Democratic score was a B-.
Christine Quinn received a D+ in 2011 from the HRJ, which was tied for the worst score of any Democrat on the council. The 2012 scorecard (in which she did not receive a score) described her thus:
“[Quinn] delayed hearings, stalled votes and restricted the passage of legislation … inhibiting the advancement of human rights in New York City.”
Perhaps most famously, Quinn has stalled the paid sick day bill, which would give employees five paid sick days if they work for a company with five or more employees. It’s sponsored by 36 of the 51 council members, more than enough to overcome a Bloomberg veto. Quinn, however, won’t let the bill come up for a vote. She claims “given the current economic reality, now is not the right time for this policy.”
Her Democratic competitors are in favor of the bill: Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and Comptroller John Liu recieved scored a B and A, respectively, in their last years on the city council. Both voted against Bloomberg’s extended term limits.
Not convinced by the scorecard? Look at who has endorsed Quinn. Before he passed away, former mayor Ed Koch called her a “liberal with sanity … [which is] exactly my philosophy”. Ed Koch, of course, backed George W Bush and the contentiously elected Republican Bob Turner, and lost his own bid for a fourth mayoral term because liberals abandoned him.
Quinn has also received support from the Staten Island Borough President Jim Molinaro, of the Conservative Party. For those that don’t know, the Conservative Party is a third party in New York, founded because the state’s Republicans were seen as too liberal. It was the banner under which conservative icon William Buckley ran for mayor in 1965.
So again, I have to ask: why are liberals backing Quinn?
Part of it has to be name recognition – she’s simply better known than her competitors. Even a volunteer at her kickoff event admitted:
“I don’t really know very much to be honest. I really only know about Quinn.”
Maybe Quinn isn’t the most liberal, but just liberal enough. I find that a little hard to believe, though, since whoever wins the Democratic nomination will probably win the general election with ease.
The other possibility is perhaps more intriguing: some might see the mere act of voting for a gay, female public official as a progressive statement. The Human Rights Campaign, a LGBT advocacy group, has backed Quinn, even though some have critiqued Quinn for not being liberal enough on HIV/AIDS issues. Quinn’s opponents in the Democratic primary, on the other hand, have been very strong on gay rights.
Emily’s List, a group dedicated to electing Democratic women, has also thrown its weight behind Quinn. This comes as many liberal women, from Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney to feminist Gloria Steinem, have rallied for Quinn to back the sick day bill. Steinem has even threatened to withdraw her endorsement if Quinn doesn’t bring the bill to vote.
For whatever reasons, Christine Quinn seems to have a strong hold over the primary right now. The record suggests, however, that once voters tune into the race, Quinn’s standing might not be as solid as it looks.
• Editor’s note: this article was amended to give the full name of the Human Rights Project at the Urban Justice Center (HRP) at 6pm (ET) on 13 March.