Friday, February 15, 2013

NY LAW SCHOOL | Quinn Is a Pro

Speaker Christine Quinn at NY Law School,
Friday, Feb. 15.
A recent NY1-Marist poll shows New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn as the three-to-one favorite to be the next mayor of New York City. Her speech this morning at the New York Law School Forum (see photo above) was consistent with the polling.

Being a front-runner is a hazardous position, and Speaker Quinn's job today was to hold her place. She did that.

She was elected to the City Council in 1999 from my neighborhood, Chelsea, so she has a favorite-daughter position around here. She has been Speaker since 2006. She is ahead, by a convincing 37% to 13%, over former NYC Comptroller Bill Thompson, whose base has been Brooklyn but now lives in Manhattan. Some of my good friends are backing Mr. Thompson and are counting on a runoff between him and Quinn that he might win. Thompson did surprisingly well in the last election against Mayor Bloomberg, but analysts interpret this as more of a vote against a third term for the Mayor than as deep support for Mr. Thompson. Also, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio is only one percentage point (12%) behind Thompson in the poll and de Blasio has the advantage of incumbency.

On the Republican side, Joe Lhota, who worked for Mayor Rudy Giuliani and has more recently been running the MTA, is the favorite. In a lopsidedly Democratic city, it's a long shot for him - the poll shows him losing to Quinn 64% to 18%. More worrisome for him is that only 20% of respondents supported him - most respondents didn't know enough about the GOP candidates to make any choice at all. He can count on getting enough campaign finance support to run a significant challenge. But money is not usually enough to win in New York City as many wealthy also-rans will testify. Mayor Bloomberg got his foot in the door because of 9/11, after which people were properly concerned about the future of New York City as a business engine, and Bloomberg's business acumen was a convincing asset.

There is still talk of other people entering the race this year, but it's nearly March and doors are closing. So those who are concerned about LAM - Life After Mike - assembled at the breakfast forum to build up their dossiers on Ms. Quinn, who would be the first female mayor of New York City and the first openly gay mayor. The event attracted more than 250 people by my count. A streaming-video recording of the event is here.

Ross Sandler, NY Law School host.
Ross Sandler is the host (see photo at left). His breakfast event is the closest thing to a successor to the City Club of New York, which played a significant role in the City of New York for more than 100 years, including in the fiscal crisis and then the mayoralty of the late Ed Koch. A moment of respectful silence for the loss of a great Mayor... and another moment for the demise of the City Club.

The New York Law School's location near the NYC courts makes it convenient for students who may want to get a law degree at night. Its location make is easy to find faculty to teach part-time. My connection with the NY Law School is that my great-aunt Inez Milholland's brother got his law degree after a career as a Harvard football kicker (he was class of 1912), which in those days got the columns of newspaper ink now lavished on the pro teams. Inez Milholland, by the way, was the woman who led on her horse the march down Pennsylvania Avenue on the eve of President Wilson's inauguration - a march that set the stage for passage of the 19th Amendment giving women the vote. (The NY Times on March 4 led off with paragraphs about Miss Milholland.) The 100th anniversary of this march is in two weeks.

Questioners in two lines.
Revered City Club tradition (sniff).
Chris Quinn was a pro, took questions with a combination of respect and firmness, and lightening up the atmosphere with believable stories about her Irish grandfather and her mother's fear of a hex:
If you take down the Christmas tree before Three Kings Day, it will be a curse on you for the rest of the year. 
She listened to tough questions from Charlie Komanoff, Roger Herz and Azi Paybarah about congestion pricing and Commissioner Kelly (whom she would like to stay on) and stop-and-frisk laws. She expresses sympathy with a problem like sound cannons and either gives an "I will look into it" or (in the case of congestion pricing) a "no chance that will  happen soon" answer. She supported the mayor in his bid for congestion pricing, but makes clear that the outer-borough opposition is  strong and this plan is on ice in 2013. In a political environment where a candidate walks a narrow path between cannons to the left and cavalry to the right, with minefields in the middle, she got to the other side with a sure step and no mishap. She did mention Verizon as failing to keep all its mobile phone subscribers in communication during Hurricane Sandy and then Prof. Sandler sheepishly noted that Verizon was a co-sponsor of the breakfast; when informed of this she sort of said she was sorry and breezed on.

To my mind, the test of the day was whether we would have a Marco Rubio water-bottle problem. No way.   She is on top of her game.

It's still "early times" for the 2013 Democratic Primary on September 10. Good politicians focus earnestly on the next election, not so much the one(s) that may occur soon after - because, as the late Howard Samuels once discovered, there is no point in worrying about the later election if you lose the earlier one. Based on her performance today, I would say that Speaker Quinn will continue to lead the pack come September 10.

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