Mayoral contender Christine Quinn on Tuesday opened up to a small group of Barnard College students about her past struggles with bulimia and alcoholism, a discussion lending a sense of vulnerability to a politician known for her aggressive demeanor.
The City Council speaker said bulimia, which she called a "disease of isolation," first gripped her when she was a 16-year-old growing up in Glen Cove and her mother was dying of cancer.
Binging and purging gave her a sense of control, and drinking provided a sense of escape, however false, she said. Quinn, 46, did not begin recovering from the disorders until she entered rehabilitation in the 1990s, she said.
Quinn said she was still drinking occasionally until she finally quit cold turkey about three years ago and considers herself a "recovering alcoholic." Asked whether she used Alcoholics Anonymous or another way to stay sober, she responded that the "second 'A' in AA is 'anonymous.' "
Quinn was joined by Barnard's president, Debora Spar, and took questions from some of about 30 female students at the invitation-only event.
She said she hoped "young women and girls who feel stuck" might be helped by her story, which is to be part of a memoir, "With Patience and Fortitude," to be published by HarperCollins next month.
"The drive to be perfect, for women, is what keeps us from being great," she said. "Perfect for a little girl is thinner and prettier and better grades and most involved and most successful."
Asking for help shows strength, not weakness, she told the students.
Quinn currently leads the field of Democratic mayoral candidates in polls. She is not the first this campaign season to disclose deeply personal details of her life. Public Advocate Bill de Blasio's wife, Chirlane, spoke to Essence magazine about being a lesbian before she met her husband.
Asked about the timing of her revelations, Quinn said she wasn't politically motivated but simply ready.
"To some degree, I wish I had been ready sooner, but you're ready when you're ready," Quinn said.
She also scoffed that her campaign couldn't soften her image even if that were a motive.
"I am who I am, and I'm extraordinarily proud of the fact that I am a successful woman, that I'm a pushy woman, that I'm a loud woman, that I'm a woman that gets up every morning and works as hard as I can," she said.
A senior from South Huntington in the Barnard audience said she found Quinn candid and inspiring.
"It was great to see a role model, someone in a public position, speak about normal issues that everyone deals with but not everyone talks about," said Sara Donatich, 21.