It seems that everyone has an opinion about Christine Quinn. That fact is a testament to her long and distinguished career, first as a community organizer, then as chief-of-staff to former Sen. Tom Duane, and as council member representing one of Manhattan’s most vibrant districts. Quinn has broken many barriers during her service as the first female and first openly gay Speaker on the City Council—a citywide position second only to Mayor Michael Bloomberg. And she’s campaigning to add the title of mayor to those firsts. Christine Quinn shared an exclusive interview with GO on the eve of the New York City mayoral primaries.
GO Magazine: There are only a handful of women who have risen to leadership positions in large cities. Even fewer have become big city mayors, and only a handful, such as Mayor Annise Parker of Houston, have been openly gay. You have, by many means, a historic candidacy. How does it feel to be the first viable female and openly LGBT mayoral candidate for New York?
Christine Quinn: It feels amazing. History doesn’t sit still, and women and girls—and the LGBT community—need to unite and keep pushing. I always say, ‘if you aren’t at the table, you’re not on the menu.’ I am inspired every day in this race by the support that I receive from New Yorkers from all walks of life, but especially women. It’s also a great responsibility—and I am proud of my strong record of results in delivering, time and again for women and girls and for the LGBT community over two plus decades of public service. This will only grow under my leadership as mayor.
GO: Everyone in politics and activism has a moment in their past that sparked their interest in political engagement. What was yours?
CQ: I grew up in a politically active household; my father was very involved in his union. Growing up on Long Island, in the ‘70s and ‘80s, it was a Republican bastion, so I felt the difference between conservative and progressive very clearly. In fact, I once asked my father why we were Democrats—and he said, ‘It’s how you get into heaven.’ I agree! In college I was very involved in the Anti-Apartheid Movement; after college, I plunged into a career as a tenant organizer.
GO: Why are you running for mayor? What do you think makes you the best candidate for the job?
CQ: No other candidate in the race can touch my record of delivering real, life-affirming, positive and progressive results for New York City. I have increased early education opportunities, including making kindergarten mandatory; and protected women’s healthcare, by challenging dishonest and misleading healthcare providers. I have increased tenants’ rights, making sure they can take bad landlords to court; I’ve fought the mayor – and won – saving over 4,000 teachers’ jobs. I have increased manufacturing jobs during the recession. I fought heart and soul to win marriage equality, and I have negotiated and passed eight on-time budgets. This is a record nobody can match, and this is the kind of leader I will be as mayor.
GO: How would you do things differently than the current mayor?
CQ: Mayor Bloomberg and I are different leaders with different styles. I have worked with him when I can, and disagreed with him publicly and strongly when I can’t. Recently, I took him to court over what I considered a cruel homeless policy. I’ve overridden his veto time and again on issues from paid sick leave, to having an independent inspector general in place to oversee the NYPD. But if this city is going to run, the government has to function, which means no stalemates, no showdowns. There’s a place that runs that way—it’s called Washington, D.C.—and neither I nor any New Yorker would stand for it.
GO: Recent polls have you slipping into second and even third place at this critical juncture. Why do you think that your numbers are falling?
CQ: This was going to be a tight race all along; polls have gone up and down as they will. The only polls that matter are on Election Day, and those are measured by who turns out.
GO: What are the top three issues that you would address as mayor, and what concrete plans do you have to improve them?
CQ: Very difficult to choose just three, since there are so many important issues facing so many New Yorkers! But here goes. First, affordability. New York must once again be a place where it’s possible to get into the middle class, where families can build their lives and prosper. I hear over and over again that New Yorkers are ‘priced out.’ That’s not acceptable to me, which is why I have a plan as mayor to build 40,000 new affordable housing units, on top of those already in the pipeline. We must also bring NYCHA housing up to code and then some, by clearing the backlogs of repairs and redirecting and reinvesting funds. NYCHA should be under mayoral control – because no New York family should have to live in the conditions I have witnessed.
We also need to do so much more to turn around our public schools. Two ways: reengaging parents—I propose an online ‘parent university’ to educate and inform parents on choices and options so parents feel as though they can navigate and enrich the system. Also, we need to steer away from a culture of rote testing and engage far more in teacher support.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not share my five point policy plan for NYC’s LGBT community with GO readers. We have shared major victories, but there is so much more to do:
- Establish a Mayor’s Office of HIV/AIDS Policy. This office will report directly to me, and it will coordinate the fight against HIV/AIDS across city agencies, not just out of the Dept. of Health.
- Fully fund shelter beds for runaway and homeless youth so that no young person in New York has to spend the night on the streets, and ensure the existing wait list is eliminated.
- Build New York City’s first LGBT senior housing community. Other cities have LGBT housing for seniors, but NYC doesn’t. We’re gonna build it!
- Redouble efforts to combat hate crimes. We will set a goal of making NYC a hate crime-free city.
- Include LGBT – especially transgender – people in the city’s public health surveys and other surveys, because we must measure our population if we want to know what our communities need.
Together we will create a world in which all people are given equal opportunity to excel and thrive, regardless of who they are, where they’re from, or who they love.