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Madam Would-Be Mayor

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Kim Catullo and Quinn running errands near their weekend house in Bradley Beach, New Jersey.  

And yet the whispering continues. Perhaps the most vivid indication that, as one longtime city Democratic consultant notes, “the elites clearly are not settled” is the nascent candidacy of Joe Lhota, who recently resigned as head of the MTA to run for mayor as a Republican. “Only the New York City intelligentsia could think that it would be okay to put forward a candidate for mayor who is about to be at the head of yet another fare increase,” says the consultant. “It’s easy for them because none of them have MetroCards. But that stupidity notwithstanding, it does ­demonstrate—even for those who are in the Bloomberg coalition who are ­Democrats—that there is a kind of a they’re-not-sold-on-this-­person-quite-yet restlessness.”

And so: A very skillful political operator nonetheless finds herself caught between those who see her as Bloomberg Lite and, well, those who see her as Bloomberg Lite. The truth is that while the decision to work with the mayor was surely part calculation, it also has a lot to do with Quinn’s nature: She is pragmatic above all else. To win the mayoralty, she will have to convince the city that her pragmatism is not purely strategic—or rather, that the strategy is genuine. At Moonstruck, when we talked about her relationship with the mayor, she got more worked up than usual, banging her cell phone on the table to hammer home points. “Our job is to get things done.” Bang. “And ultimately the best way to get things done is to work collaboratively. Is this model of Washington, where nobody can find common ground, better? I mean, that’s a rock around people’s necks. That’s an albatross.” Bang, bang. “What other type of business would people go, ‘Ugh! You know that woman? She’s finding a way to work with people. Oh, we gotta put a stop to that! And you know what else? They’re passing budgets on time! They’re putting money in a trust fund! That’s crazy talk.’ I think New Yorkers are thrilled that things are working, that things are civilized, and that things are productive.” Bang, bang, bang!

One Sunday afternoon in early December, I met Quinn at the Hudson Guild, a community center in Chelsea. She was here for the 85th birthday of a neighborhood fixture and activist for the elderly, Muriel Beach. “I present you with the highest honor you can get from the City Council,” Quinn said to Beach, “a proclamation framed in plastic.” Quinn’s father, Larry, was also here—“LQ,” as they call him around City Hall, where he keeps a desk and is, as Chris likes to say, “an unpaid and un-listened-to adviser.” He is 86, and because someone told me that Larry reminded him of Clarence Odbody, the guardian angel from It’s a Wonderful Life, I spotted him instantly, wearing his Sunday best—tweed trousers and camel-hair blazer. He has a very unusual, high-pitched voice and a twinkly eyed, gentle aspect. We wound up chatting about our shared obsession with the Housing Works thrift shops, which he visits regularly. “They have terrific stuff,” he said. “I was just at the one on 17th Street this morning because my other daughter, Ellen, is looking for serving pieces for Christmas.” Suddenly, Chris appeared next to us and butted in. “Serving pieces of what sort?” she asked. “Platters! And bowls!” he said, suddenly shouting like Gilbert Gottfried, and at last I understood where the decibel level comes from. They talked for a bit about Ellen, a geologist who lives on the water in Guilford, Connecticut. “You know where your sister lives,” said Larry to Chris, “how there’s no land next to her? Well, there was land there before the hurricane in 1938.”

“Oh, really,” Chris said as a puzzled look crossed her face. “You know, it’s a dumb place she lives. Especially for a geologist.”

Chris then wandered off, and Larry got to telling me that, despite the fact that he now lives on 87th and Riverside, he parks his beloved 2002 Mercedes at 212th Street and Tenth Avenue, under the el. Chris was now back at his side. “Are you saying inappropriate things?”

“We’re discussing why the father of a big shot has to go all the way up to 212th Street to park his car,” he said.

“Because you’re a piece of work!” she shouted. “And when congestion pricing was being discussed, you went off in a fit of pique, yelling at the deputy mayor, saying you didn’t agree with congestion pricing, and moved your car! You didn’t ask if it was gonna pass, you didn’t ask for a political calculation, you just went off in some fit of pique. So you have no one to blame but yourself.” At this point they were both smirking, amused by their little Ralph and Alice Kramden routine. Chris reached out and stroked the lapel of his blazer. “You look very dapper,” she said sweetly.


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