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For Quinn, a rollicking mayoral campaign that needs to focus on the future

Jonathan Hicks | 6/6/2013, 1:02 p.m.
It's time to make youth unemployment the focus of our national attention

This has been quite an eventful period for Christine Quinn, the City Council speaker and Democratic Party candidate for mayor of New York City. In just the last week, Quinn revealed that she once struggled with alcoholism and bulimia and that she secretly underwent rehab treatment in Florida some 20 years ago.

The revelations were the result of an article published in the New York Times after Quinn requested an interview with the newspaper. It was a story that dominated the local news coverage, particularly when it came to media attention of the crowded Democratic primary for mayor.

It also shifted the tone of the coverage of Quinn herself and her campaign. In the weeks prior to her revelations about the struggles of her youth, the news stories about the Quinn campaign were anything but glowing. There has been a barrage of campaign ads by critics attacking the council speaker, accompanied by an unflattering social media campaign opposing her candidacy.

The most recent television ad condemns her for not doing more to prevent the closing of St. Vincent's Hospital, which is in her Manhattan district. That followed an earlier ad campaign that depicts her as the handmaiden for the city's wealthy elite. That ad begins by showing a smoke-filled room and the narrator saying: "Virtually all of Christine Quinn's decisions were made in rooms just like this, with her friends in the 1 percent. She wants you to think that she's a progressive, but on the issues New Yorkers care most about, she is always on the wrong side. ... All that's clear when the smoke lifts is her political ambition."

The ad touches on one of the most significant problems facing Quinn as she seeks to garner enough support to exceed 40 percent of the electorate in the Democratic primary four months from now. She is perhaps best known for shifting her position on term limits some four years ago, when she became the champion of a move she once vehemently opposed. She rejected the will of New Yorkers as expressed in two public referendums in order to acquiesce to the desire of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to run for a third term. She led the Council in granting the mayor a third term without a public referendum.

For many New Yorkers, that was a defining and unprincipled moment in their perception of Quinn, and it remains a significant hurdle for her to overcome. She effectively turned her back on the progressive credentials she accumulated far earlier in her career. To hold a firm position on an issue--one that she recognized as representing the will of the people--and to change it in order to curry favor and, presumably, support from the billionaire mayor she hopes to succeed, seems eerily, well, Romney-esque.

Not surprisingly, Bloomberg has invited Quinn to stand in for him at a few public events where the mayor would have typically presided. It is an effort to have her look increasingly mayoral. "Chris Quinn has done a very good job as speaker," Bloomberg declared in one of his recent weekly radio broadcasts. "Whether you're going to vote for her or not, she has been a very good speaker. The city has been very well served by her. I don't think that she gets enough credit for it."

Quinn still leads in the polls, but her numbers have been sagging in recent weeks. So while she is reaching out for interviews to discuss her past, it might also be illuminating to voters for her to explain her current position of continuing the horrendous, unconstitutional stop-and-frisk program in a manner that she says would be "constitutionally sound."

There is much for her to concentrate on in the current campaign. The voters of New York City are far more interested in hearing about her plans for making this city more affordable for working men and women. They care far more about how young people of color might not be constantly threatened by hostile police stops and about how schools would live up to their promise. They are far less concerned with her personal issues of a generation ago.