NYC Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, often called the most powerful openly gay elected official in the United States, shepherded the recent successful attempt to pass legislation that would allow citywide elected officials to run for a third consecutive four-year term.
The controversial legislation to extend term limits was championed by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who shocked the city’s political establishment on Oct 2 by announcing that he planned to run for a third term. The billionaire media mogul turned politician argued that the city’s deepening financial crisis necessitated continuity of leadership, with his extensive Wall Street background being an obvious asset. A lifelong Democrat, he ran for mayor and won as a Republican in 2001, although he now goes under the Independent banner. He once called efforts to change term limits, which were upheld by voters in referendums in 1993 and 1996, “disgusting.”
When his about-face announcement came, many elected officials, including two-thirds of the 51-member City Council, expected to be term-limited from office in 2009 and were already engaged in campaigns for other positions. Quinn herself was reported to be seriously considering a bid for mayor.
Instead, Quinn, who previously opposed altering the term-limits law, led the Bloomberg-initiated effort among her members to extend term limits through legislation. The tactic appeared unpopular with voters, where an overwhelming 89 percent of respondents to a Quinnipiac University Poll said they preferred to decide the term limits question in a public referendum.
The term limits legislation ultimately passed 29-22 in the City Council on Oct 23, but not without significant potential for political fallout for Bloomberg, Quinn and the city council members who supported it.
Though her leadership position, won with the vote of her colleagues in 2006, makes her a legislative counterweight to the mayor’s executive power, Speaker Quinn, a Democrat, has demonstrated an amiable relationship with the mayor. However, as soon as one week after the controversial term limits vote the New York Times reported signs of strain between her office and Bloomberg’s.
One major immediate consequence for Quinn is the impact of her stated decision now to run again for her own City Council seat rather than try for mayor. At least two openly gay candidates are eyeing the post centered in Chelsea. They are among an estimated 10 LGBT candidates who had planned to run for open seats in the City Council in 2009—that is, until the term limits extension may have affected their calculations.
“The mayor has said that he merely wants to give the people of New York a choice. But what choice are you giving when you knock out qualified and competent opponents who simply cannot compete with $80 million and an incumbent billionaire?” asked Yetta Kurland, a lesbian and potential candidate for Quinn’s seat, in testimony before the City Council voted.
In addition to the disappointment among her gay constituency, many of whom decline to speak out against Quinn due to her power over the city’s $60 billion budget, she also faces the prospect of rival Democrats assuming her mantle as reformer.
Congressman Anthony Weiner and City Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr. both have made strong statements against the term limits extension, and expressed their intention to run for mayor against Bloomberg. Weiner delivered a strong showing during a previous bid for mayor in 2005, and Thompson is popular with the city’s gay political community for his pro-LGBT stances.
Thompson called the term limits vote “an affront to New Yorkers” in a statement issued after it passed.