“This is a totally obvious statement, but being the mayor of the City of New York is a tough job, and people need to make sure they have somebody who’s tough enough to lead, but smart enough to listen and to lead in a collaborative way.”
That’s how City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) responded to the first question asked of her during an interview last Thursday with the Queens Chronicle editorial board: the old standard, “What makes you the best candidate?”
“I’ve demonstrated all that as speaker in the City Council,” the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination continued. “No one who is running in this race, with all due respect to them for all their years of service, can show you the record of consensus building and delivering that I can in my time as speaker of the City Council.”
Quinn’s opponents in the race are Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, City Comptroller John Liu, former Comptroller Bill Thompson, former Councilman Sal Albanese and, officially as of Tuesday night, former Rep. Anthony Weiner.
Speaking before Weiner announced he was entering the race, Quinn said she expects the Sept. 10 primary will go to a runoff between the top two vote-getters, as mandated by law if no candidate garners 40 percent of the vote.
“I’ve always assumed there would be a runoff,” she said. “When you have five, maybe six people in the race, it’s just very mathematically hard to get to 40 percent.”
The speaker said she is happy with the polls showing her support around 28 to 30 percent of Democratic primary voters. In the latest Quinnipiac University survey, her closest rival was Weiner at 15 percent, though he hadn’t yet announced his candidacy.
Asked about her top issues, the first one Quinn brought up is encouraging the creation of more affordable housing — for the middle class, not just the lower classes — using a combination of federal grants and borrowing, along with capping property taxes on developers who build it.
“If we can forego a small amount of tax revenue but get middle-class housing, that’s a good deal,” she said.
On another top issue, education, Quinn criticized the Bloomberg administration’s policy of closing schools in need and reopening new ones in the same buildings, something her opponents also are denouncing.
“When a school has to close, it’s a tragedy,” she said, adding, “We spend $20 million a year closing and reopening schools.”
The speaker said she would prefer an “early-warning system” when a school is in jeopardy, one that would then see it receive more resources to improve, rather than face closure. And, she said, improvements have to be given a chance to work, citing a school in her lower Manhattan district that was shut down just six months after a new principal was brought in to turn things around.
Quinn’s positions on other issues — and in some cases lack thereof, at least publicly, include:
• establishing more city-backed food markets in neighborhoods that lack stores selling fresh produce, and having more of them accept food stamp cards;
• providing more funding from the Mayor’s Office to keep hospitals open;
• reducing the regulatory pressure on small businesses to keep them open and “stop the Duane Readeing of New York”;
• having greater oversight of the Police Department to ensure stop, question and frisk is done constitutionally;
• not taking a position on the proposal to build a soccer stadium in Flushing Meadows Park, out of deference to area Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst); and
• not taking a position on whether table games should be allowed at the Resorts World Casino in South Ozone Park.
Addressing another frequent criticism of her, that she too often supports Mayor Bloomberg, Quinn said, “The mayor and I have a very productive working relationship. We don’t want City Hall to be Washington.”
She noted that they have sometimes differed, as on teacher layoffs he proposed that she said no to and changes in city policy toward the homeless she opposed.
Knowing her audience, Quinn then pointed out that, for example, the editor and publisher of a newspaper should work together rather than be at odds.