A beneficial side-effect of the Anthony Weiner sideshow has been to refocus New York voters on the critical question in the Mayoral race: who is best suited to lead this country's largest, most dynamic, complex, diverse, and global city. After 20 years of Giuliani and Bloomberg, to have a truly democratic race, which offers a field of good progressive candidates is exciting. The Mayoral field of Democratic candidates is strong. We respect candidates like Bill Thompson and Bill DeBlasio, and we value the many critical voices and challenges raised in this race so far by diverse analysts and activists. But we believe the evidence is clear -- that City Council Speaker Christine Quinn is the strongest and best candidate for Mayor of New York -- from any party.
Quinn's ability to lead all the boroughs of the city, her record of getting things done, commitment to human rights and social justice and pragmatic intellect demonstrate that she has the skill, ideas, guts and spirit to lead New York through these tough economic, cultural and political times. We say this as long-time social justice advocates who were unhappy with Quinn's support for Bloomberg's third term. But Quinn and the City Council's vote to suspend term-limits is not what elected Bloomberg - the first or second time - the people of New York City did. Reasonable people will differ with our conclusion, including some of our closest friends and allies; contention lies at the heart of politics, and we gladly join our own views to the fray.
There are three reasons Quinn is the best candidate for Mayor and will make a great one. First, she has a track record of making good on her commitment to get the city working again for low income and middle-class people; second, she has formidable skill as a political leader, and can deliver results; third, Quinn has the personal qualities of guts, progressive values, independence and chutzpah that we New Yorkers love in our Mayors.
The first reason Speaker Quinn will make a great Mayor lies in her commitment to, and track record of advocacy for, middle-class New Yorkers. Quinn's roots are deeply embedded in human rights and social justice. She started out as a housing activist and was active in the LGBT movement as a leader of the Anti-Violence Project. As a City Council member and chair of the Health Committee, she worked hard to keep Sydenham Clinic open and passed Manny's law, requiring hospitals to help uninsured patients. She is a steadfast advocate of women's reproductive rights and helped enact legislation protecting clinics from harassment and providing reproductive health training for hospitals. She's been a strong supporter of immigrant rights issues, working with the New York Immigration Coalition to provide photo IDs so immigrant parents can have access to their children's schools and reduce unnecessary deportations. On one of the most pressing issues of the moment, she led the Council in passing the bill to establish an Inspector General for the New York City Police Department, and we among others urge her to do even more to end the racially biased policy of Stop and Frisk, which she recently condemned as being "out of control." The idea that Quinn is politically identical to Bloomberg is not based in reality. The Council, under Speaker Quinn, has successfully defeated several Bloomberg vetoes - on a living wage bill, a paid sick leave bill and hopefully soon on the stop and frisk-related inspector general bill.
Quinn is a progressive who has been endorsed by a number of human rights leaders and organizations, including, unions (such as SEIU Local 32BJ), NARAL Pro-Choice NY, Emily's List, and LGBT groups including LPAC, the national lesbian political action committee (on whose board Vaid sits). There are also other candidates in the Mayoral race with strong progressive credentials. On a few issues of concern to progressive people, some candidates may have stronger positions than Quinn (for example, John Liu is the only candidate who says he would categorically end "stop and frisk"). Yet, none of the candidates comes close to the record of accomplishment that Chris Quinn demonstrates.
The attacks on Quinn have been aided and orchestrated by an alliance of activists inflamed by positions Quinn has taken on specific issues of concern to them, like carriage horses in Central Park. So be it -- the critiques of New Yorkers are essential to the political process, and Quinn, like any political leader should be asked about her record, her leadership, and her commitment to defending unpopular interests against more powerful ones. But to characterize the organized opposition to Quinn as a spontaneous and grassroots rebellion is like treating the Koch-brothers funded anti-Obama campaign as the will of the people.
The campaign against Quinn rests not only on critiques of positions, but also on personal attacks that are lacerated with the sexist double standards that accompany any female candidacy. Women who run must endure the indignity even of ostensibly positive media profiles (like Maureen Dowd's) that focus on the color of their toenail polish. It's inconceivable that profile of a male politician would focus on the color of his briefs. Except for Weiner.
Secondly, Speaker Quinn will make a great mayor because she is an effective leader who gets legislation passed and progress made. In a national and, until recently, state-level policy landscape mired in gridlock and polarization, these are not inconsequential skills. Quinn has been effective in enacting policy and exercising her leadership role to get things done on behalf of middle-class people of this city. Under her history-making tenure as the first woman and the first gay person elected as Speaker of the New York City Council, the Council required all city-funded projects to pay a living wage; and overrode a Mayoral veto to protect that bill. After a prolonged battle in which she was pressed by almost the entire business community (small and large) in Manhattan to do nothing, and by the progressive community to support a measure that was more expansive, Quinn brokered passage of a paid sick leave bill through the Council that will cover all businesses with more than 15 employees by 2015. Could the Council do more? Of course it could. Did it matter that this bill passed (and that a Bloomberg veto was overridden)? You bet it did.
No one should mistake the fact that Quinn takes seriously the responsibility to govern with a failure to articulate and stand up for progressive values. Indeed, it's curious that many who decry the dysfunction of Washington, would criticize Quinn for a successful record of working with a Mayor and a City Council that are often at odds. Recent history has taught us that having the right set of ideological positions, and access to a platform, are not enough to achieve progressive victories. The ability to legislate and get wins is essential.
Third, we stand with Chris Quinn because she has the personal strength of character, values and qualities that will enable her to be a great Mayor for all parts of our wonderful city. New York's Mayors have been a diverse group but one personality trait all successful ones have shared is a pugnacious ability to stand up for this city, to fight hard for us, in good times and bad. Quinn embodies New York's feisty character, as an Irish woman with roots across the city. Her street smart, working class, pragmatic and tough style would be valued if embodied in a male politician.
It is also the case that in Christine Quinn we have not only an effective political leader, but a breakthrough candidate whose election would have national as well as city-wide significance. New York City has been home to a number of strong feminist progressive political leaders who blazed trails for all of us but who never made it to Gracie Mansion. Bella Abzug, Carol Bellamy and Ruth Messinger come to mind. Christine Quinn, who has the support of Abzug's daughter Liz as well as Messinger, is in a strong position to complete and build on their legacies. Women are still appallingly unrepresented in government - fewer than one out of five members of Congress, and just five out of 50 Governors - and LGBT people even less so. Presented with a capable and tested leader, it's surprising to hear back-pedaling and excuses from those who would continue an unbroken line of 108 men in City Hall.
Christine Quinn will be a great mayor for the city of New York. We support her strongly and without apology, and we urge all New Yorkers to vote for Quinn on September 10.
Gara LaMarche has held leadership positions in a number of human rights and social justice groups and now teaches and advises foundations and non-profits. Urvashi Vaid is a writer and organizer working on LGBT and social justice issues.