Is Christine Quinn Still Christine Quinn?
I'm worried for Christine Quinn. A lot of us knew her as a firebrand activist in the 90s (a tenants' rights organizer, Executive Director of the Anti-Violence Project), but no amount of progressive bona fides from 10 years ago can make up for the way she secured her recent appointment as City Council Speaker. The old Democratic machine bosses selected her, full stop. That's how she beat DeBlasio. You have to wonder how much of herself she had to sacrifice to be palatable to the very conservative Queens Boss Tom Manton. Does she represent the ascendance of outsider activists, as Tom Robbins argued in the Voice, or, far more likely, does she represent politics as usual, but now with a smiley lesbian face stuck on it?
John Avlon wrote in The Sun last week that it's just the continuation of the permanent unelected government in New York:
Tom Robbins is the voice of optimism:
Influential party bosses like Tom Manton in Queens and Vito Lopez in Brooklyn care far more about exerting control over their selected leaders, rather than what demographic box their candidate might check off in a civic census. If this is progress, it deserves to be taken with a side shot of skepticism. It marks less a change than a continuation of influence by the unelected. The fact that Ms. Quinn has retained outgoing City Council Speaker Gifford Miller's chief of staff indicates what is occurring.
New York's council has long had its share of members who emerged from the ranks of community activism, but most have been relegated to the sidelines. Pushy advocates-turned-legislators who dared to oppose the all-powerful majority leader, people like Ruth Messinger and Sal Albanese, spent more time in the political woodshed than in important assignments.
Quinn, who took office after term limits were introduced, and as part of a huge new class of members in an expanded council, said that wasn't her experience. She got along well with former Speaker Gifford Miller, who rewarded her with a post as chair of the health committee.
But even in this quote, there's cause to pause. Maybe "that wasn't her experience" precisely because she stopped being a "pushy advocate."
Robbins quotes one of my very favorite New York activists, Bill Dobbs (btw, Robbins' characterization of Dobbs is annoying, since Dobbs' main organizing work for years now has been against the war, not for gay stuff):
As a legislator, Quinn has fought fiercely to expand abortion rights, including an effort to win "morning after" contraceptives for rape victims. But last month she co-hosted a fundraiser for Queens and Bronx congressman Joe Crowley, a Manton favorite whose ambivalent abortion views have earned him a meager 30
percent rating by advocates.
"He's anti-choice. She did it solely to win Manton's support and the Queens delegation," said Bill Dobbs, a radical gay organizer. Dobbs said Quinn's public status as a lesbian counted for little compared to the issues she will wrestle with. "Let's not confuse a seat at the table or a fancy title with progress," he said. "Think Clarence Thomas, or Madeleine Albright. There is a lot more to change than diversifying representatives."
So she kept Giff's staff, she's supporting anti-choice candidates, and the buzz is that her first big move in the Council will be to end the term limits that were enacted to clean up the corrupt, inneffectual Council. Does that sound like a "pushy advocate" to you? Maybe a pushy advocate of the agenda of the party bosses.
This quote from Councilman Charles Barron (addressing Quinn) in the Sun strongly suggests he's worried she's completely in the bosses' pockets:
I want to challenge you to be independent. Be free from giving your vote to a county leader, a union, a business leader or corporation - or any other outside force trying to control you. The people voted for you, not your county leader. You owe it to the people to be strong, independent and principled in making decisions that affect their lives.
UPDATE: Doing a little more research into Quinn, I found the following from a 1999 Voice article about her very first election:
This record is no doubt why Quinn was invited to sit on the police brutality task force that met last year. But she promptly made alliances with a faction sympathetic to the mayor [Giuliani], and when Norman Siegel of the New York Civil Liberties Union spearheaded a minority report that demanded an independent investigator for brutality complaints, he chose not to share it with Quinn. "They were afraid that if they showed it to her, she would take it right to Giuliani," a source close to the task force notes.
So she's been talking out of both sides of her mouth for at least 7 years. If Norm Siegel and Bill Dobbs don't trust Quinn, that's more than enough reason for me to be worried.