The emergency response to Hurricane Sandy is far from over, but the political reaction is in full swing. On Thursday President Obama will tour storm damage with Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg, part of the opening act for the ferocious fight for federal money to rebuild and protect New York. The storm has also created an enormous new issue for the candidates to succeed Bloomberg as mayor in 2013, who need to present plausible visions of how to bolster the city’s defenses against climate change. This morning Christine Quinn gave the first major post-Sandy campaign speech, even though the campaign hasn’t officially begun.
There were some standard items — Quinn, currently the speaker of the City Council, says she’ll launch hearings into the city’s hurricane response — and some good, granular ideas, like requiring the use of water-absorbing pavement materials. Plus some populist touches: Quinn says she’s considering legislation to force Con Ed to bury electrical lines in vulnerable neighborhoods.
Yet for all the infrastructure substance — and for all the finger-crossing that the Feds will pick up the vast majority of the tab — Quinn’s speech was also a way to position her for next year. Outerborough resentment of Manhattan was always going to be a theme in 2013; the Sandy aftermath, in which residents of Staten Island and the Rockaways, among others, complained bitterly of being ignored, will only widen the city’s geopolitical divide. True, there aren’t many Democratic primary voters in the areas hardest hit by the storm, but Quinn, who is most popular and best known in Manhattan, could be vulnerable to an outerborough campaign strategy, especially from Brooklyn’s Bill de Blasio or Queens’s John Liu.
In today’s speech, Quinn included an anecdote about summer visits to Rockaway Beach when she was a young girl, saying they were one of her favorite memories of her late mother, and described seeing that boardwalk laying in pieces last week. Her closing flourish was a call to “work together, as one city.” At the end of the speech roughly three-quarters of the audience — mostly businesspeople at a midtown hotel breakfast meeting of the Association for a Better New York — gave Quinn a standing ovation. None of the candidates will win anything close to 75 percent at the voting booth next year. Quinn’s remarks today showed she knows that assembling a mere plurality is going to be a five-borough battle.