NYC mayoral candidates Christine Quinn, Joseph Lhota recall childhoods on LI

New York City mayoral candidates Christine Quinn and New York City mayoral candidates Christine Quinn and Joseph Lhota both grew up in Long Island. Photo Credit: Getty Images; Charles Eckert

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Christine Quinn was known as "the mayor of Libby Drive," a nickname given to her by a Glen Cove neighbor familiar with the sight of her ordering other kids around.

Joseph Lhota had a red Ford Falcon Futura that he packed with high school buddies and drove to Robert Moses State Park, to the Hamptons and to hangouts in between.

Before Quinn and Lhota were candidates for the Democratic and Republican nominations for mayor of New York, respectively, they were Long Islanders.

Quinn, 46, lived on a Glen Cove street that ended in a cul-de-sac. Lhota lived in a home in the Venetian Shores neighborhood of Lindenhurst, where his parents still reside for part of the year, that was flooded by superstorm Sandy.

Both thrived in tight-knit communities, went to their high school proms and got their first taste of politics through student councils.

They came from middle-class families and went to Catholic schools. Quinn studied at the all-girls Holy Child High School in Old Westbury. Lhota, 58, attended St. John the Baptist Diocesan High School in West Islip.

Quinn is remembered for her boundless energy, and Lhota for his quiet leadership.

 

Lhota 'leads by example'

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"He was for constituencies before constituencies were in, and he was proactive before being proactive was in," said Brian Maher, Lhota's business law teacher at St. John the Baptist.

After poring over study materials, he came to class with challenging questions.

"He brought up some points I hadn't thought of, that made me think maybe I wasn't right," said Maher, 66, of West Islip. "He interpreted the rule of law. He would give a set of circumstances that were sort of stretching it to see if it would apply equally."

The late 1960s and early '70s were a time of rebellion for young people, but Lhota obeyed the school's jacket-and-tie dress code, Maher said.

Classmate Mike Judge remembered Lhota for his understated influence.

"Joe leads by example. . . . He never forced his opinion," said Judge, 59, of Merrick. "He would discuss your opinion and maybe get you to come around to his side."

Lhota served as features editor of the school's newspaper, The Prophet. He was also on the yearbook committee and the student council. "It was great to be involved," Lhota said in an interview.

He wasn't an athlete, but Lhota and his friends enjoyed going to St. John the Baptist basketball games. "We used to lead the animal section, making sure there was enough noise and cheering going on," he said.

Lhota recalled driving his Falcon Futura, and "the fun we could have in the car and the people we could crowd in the car, how we would decide one day, you know what? It's time to go to the Hamptons."

Robert Moses State Park, where they lounged on the beach with sandwiches and sodas, was another choice destination. "It was about how fast you could get to Robert Moses Parking Lot No. 2," Lhota said.

Long Island was a different place then, Lhota and his classmates said. Friends' parents worked at Grumman Corp. on the Apollo lunar module. Johnny All-Weather Drive-In Theatre in Copiague was a favorite date spot. The legal drinking age was 18 and draft cards were presented as verifying IDs.

"We learned how to drink together," Lhota said of his closest friends, but added, "We were always safe, always cautious. Basically we all wanted to go to college and we wanted to do great."

Lhota was the first in his family to graduate from college. His father, Joseph, was an NYPD lieutenant, and his mother, Jacqueline, worked various jobs to help pay for his education.

Lhota was born in the Bronx. His parents moved with him and his younger brother, Richard, to Lindenhurst when he was in sixth grade.

Lhota, who now lives in Brooklyn Heights, was a deputy mayor in the Giuliani administration and chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, a position he quit to run for mayor. He graduated from Georgetown University and Harvard Business School.

Quinn's leadership praised

Quinn, the City Council speaker and a former housing organizer, graduated from Trinity College in Hartford. If elected, she would be the city's first female and first openly gay mayor.

Growing up in Glen Cove, Quinn threw herself into whatever she did, whether it involved playing with friends on her street or volunteering to help senior citizens.

Quinn went to grade school at what was then known as St. Patrick and is now called All Saints Regional. Hers was a large and close-knit Irish-American family.

"She was a leader without a doubt," said Regina Huneke, Quinn's math teacher at Holy Child. "I knew that she was going to be part of something special. I wasn't sure that it was going to be politics, but I knew that she was going to be some kind of leader."

Quinn took on volunteer projects, such as raking leaves during Holy Child's annual community week, and finished her work quickly so she would have time to speak with those she was helping.

"She wanted to get to know them and get to know their lives and their hardships," said Huneke, 71, of Floral Park. "She wanted to know what she could do for them."

They were "shut-ins or people who couldn't get out, and it was always a really great opportunity to meet folks and be helpful," Quinn said in an interview.

She loved the school-sponsored service trips. "It's something I think was amazing and raised, not just mine, but all the girls' interest in reaching out to others."

Being at a smaller school gave Quinn the opportunity to join every club or team. She played basketball, soccer and softball -- but not very well, she admitted.

"In my entire basketball career, I got one basket, at St. Mary's in Garden City," Quinn said. "It was a layup. I remember it clearly."

Huneke said Quinn also liked working with children as a summer camp counselor and was chosen to represent Holy Child for visiting groups.

Quinn is known for her forceful presence, and she wasn't soft-spoken as a kid, either.

"Never quiet, but her presence was powerful among her friends, among her teachers, among the younger children that she worked with at the camp," Huneke said. "It wasn't because she made herself known, it was her presence."

Quinn now lives in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood. Her father, Lawrence, was an electrical worker and union shop steward. Her mother, Mary, who died of cancer when Quinn was 16, was a homemaker and former social worker. They chose their Glen Cove home because Libby Drive's dead end meant less car traffic and more room to play for Quinn and her older sister, Ellen. "It was great because you could just play ball and run around and ride bikes and there was a ton of kids on the block," Quinn said. "It was very, very, very suburban."

Quinn said a neighbor dubbed her the "mayor of Libby Drive. She used to look out the window and see me bossing around all the children."

Lawrence Quinn has since sold their house and moved to the Upper East Side of Manhattan. He is a familiar face around City Hall, where he has a workspace and offers advice to his daughter.

Lhota said Long Island felt like a natural extension of New York City, which he visited regularly with friends to attend hockey and college basketball games. He said that if he's elected mayor, he'll be Long Islanders' "weekend mayor," encouraging them to visit the city for its restaurants and theater and sports.

Quinn shared a similar sentiment, saying the urban experience never felt too far away from Long Island. Quinn said Glen Cove taught her to appreciate town life and to see New York City's neighborhoods as a network of small towns. Growing up with parents who took her on frequent outings in the city, she said, "was the best of both worlds."

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