NY mayoral candidate Christine Quinn faces stiff competition for women, LGBT votes

New York City Council Speaker and mayoral candidate New York City Council Speaker and mayoral candidate Christine Quinn speaks to the media outside a political forum on a boat in Manhattan. (April 9, 2013) Photo Credit: Getty Images

advertisement | advertise on newsday

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn wants to make history as New York's first female and first openly gay mayor, but she is facing competition for women and LGBT voters.

Emily's List, a national group that supports Democratic women who back abortion rights, endorsed Quinn in January and said it "is fired up and ready to shatter the glass ceiling." Leading gay rights groups, including the Empire State Pride Agenda and the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, also support her.

But other female and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) New Yorkers are lining up with Quinn's Democratic primary rivals. They cite reasons such as doubts about Quinn's commitment to liberal-backed causes, including paid sick leave guarantees for more workers, and concerns she is too close to Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Some are put off by her expressed wish to keep Ray Kelly as police commissioner. Others say they are turned off by her fiery temperament.

"Sometimes, identity politics doesn't work out for you," said Christina Greer, a Fordham University assistant professor of political science. "There are many people who see the importance of having a female mayor or a gay mayor. They just don't necessarily think she is the person to carry that mantle."

Quinn is polling better among women than her male opponents, "but the margins aren't enormous," Marist Poll director Lee Miringoff said.

Marist's last poll shows 27 percent of female Democrats back Quinn, 47 percent are divided among five male opponents -- former Rep. Anthony Weiner is closest, at 17 percent -- and 27 percent are undecided.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

"There's a huge number of persuadable voters," Miringoff said. Gay voters' preferences are not reflected in the poll, which was released May 28 and had a 4.4 point margin of error.

The National Organization for Women's New York City branch, the largest chapter, has endorsed Quinn. President Sonia Ossorio said the race's "best candidate happens to be a woman."

But NOW's Brooklyn-Queens chapter endorsed Comptroller John Liu, saying Quinn's hesitation to push through on a 2012 City Council living-wage bill and this year's paid sick leave bill hinders working women.

"These impact women enormously," said Eileen Pentil, 57, of Jackson Heights, Queens, a member of the chapter. "We'd love to have a woman mayor in the city, but not this one," said Shirley Ranz, president of the group's political action committee.

Quinn needs every vote in what is shaping up as a tight primary, Miringoff said. The poll overall shows her in first place among Democratic voters -- men and women -- but with a 5-percentage-point edge over Weiner in second place. If no candidate reaches 40 percent in the Sept. 10 primary, the first and second finishers go to a runoff.

Mayor 'for all New Yorkers'

Quinn, 46, has pitched herself to a broad range of constituents on a variety of issues, saying that "being mayor is about standing up for all New Yorkers." In day-to-day campaigning, she rarely plays up her gender and sexual orientation, but doesn't dismiss it as a factor.

"Obviously, I am who I am, so I'm aware of the fact that when this race is over, we have the potential to have the first woman and the first openly LGBT elected mayor in this city's history," she said in an interview.

"It's not like I'm thinking about it a lot," she said, "but then there'll be moments where I've been out campaigning and had three or four or five women in a row bring over their little girls to take pictures, and then you're kind of reminded in a way about the historic nature of this campaign -- and reminded in a sweet and human way and less of a political way."

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Quinn said she is working hard for "every New Yorkers' vote regardless of their gender or sexual orientation."

She hasn't succeeded with Michael Cavadias, 40, a West Village resident and a gay actor and writer who performed at an LGBT benefit in May for Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. The event was hosted by "Sex and the City" actress Cynthia Nixon and actor Alan Cumming, both of whom are gay.

"My worry is that identity issues can be used to obscure a candidate who is conservative," said Cavadias.

His neighborhood is part of a heavily gay Lower West Side district that first elected Quinn to the City Council by an almost 3-to-1 majority in a special nonpartisan 1999 election. She built her reputation as a tenant organizer, the head of the New York Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project and chief of staff to Tom Duane, one of the city's first openly gay council members.

But since her ascension to speaker of the City Council in 2006, "a lot of people soured on her," said LGBT blogger Joe Jervis, 53.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Quinn's popularity among liberal Democrats began to wane as she "solidified her relationship with Bloomberg over the years," said Greer, the Fordham assistant professor. A top grievance is Quinn's support for extending term limits, which allowed Bloomberg to run for a third term in 2009.

Other factors considered

With all the other major Democratic candidates taking similar stands on women's and gay rights, other issues have become tiebreakers.

For Julia Torrence, a Harlem real estate broker who supports the candidacy of former Comptroller Bill Thompson, it was Quinn's combative reputation.

"I think Christine Quinn is a good person and would probably be a good mayor," Torrence said. "It's just that temperament has a lot to do with it." She finds Thompson "a quieter, peaceful person."

Thompson also counts prominent women among his backers, including state Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and former Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum.

Quinn's endorsements include feminist pioneer Gloria Steinem; Ruth Messinger, the Democrats' first female mayoral nominee who lost to Republican Rudy Giuliani in 1997; and Liz Abzug, the daughter of the late feminist congresswoman Bella Abzug, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 1977.

To Messinger, Quinn's ability to bring about consensus is a strength -- a "demonstrative capacity to bring people of different points of view together on the council and hammer out agreements."

Quinn last month directed a message at women and girls, opening up to a group of Barnard College students about her struggles with bulimia and alcoholism and saying she values the power she wields as a trailblazer.

"It really felt like . . . I had an obligation to do this, that I've been put in a position as the first woman speaker and I need to try to use it in every way I can to be as helpful as I can."

Liz Abzug said she believes Quinn to be as liberal as her opponents, but said Quinn is pigeonholed because she has worked alongside Bloomberg as speaker. "I wouldn't be supporting her if she didn't have progressive ideals."

You also may be interested in: