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Madam Would-Be Mayor

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“Well, who do you think bought the jacket?”

“My mother,” Chris said.

“Yes!” Larry replied, his eyes a-twinkle. Chris erupted in laughter—“AHAHAHA-HAHAAAA!!!!”—as Larry opened his jacket and showed off the label. Chris examined it. “Yeah, it’s from Saks Fifth Avenue,” she said.

“She’s been gone for 30 years!” Larry yelled.

“Over 30 years!” Chris yelled back.

Chris, now 46, was 6 when her mother, Mary, got sick. “In a very Irish way, they didn’t actually ever tell me. A nun told a friend who told me, and that’s how I found out. But you know something’s wrong. It was difficult, because when you are a kid and you don’t know what’s going on, when things are not good you assume they’re your fault.” Before she had children, Mary was a medical technician and later a social worker; she inherited from her Irish father the idea that you are here to learn as much as you can, go as far as you can, and do some good. “Her illness instilled a sense of purpose and urgency in Christine,” Ellen told me, “because you could feel it in my mother. Just because you’re sick doesn’t mean you don’t have a really strong life force.”

Like any good politician, Quinn has polished the stories of her earliest stirrings of interest in government: eavesdropping on her mother’s social-worker friends; picking up on the political sensibilities of her father, the shop steward of his union; and, most important, discovering the shelf of mini-biographies of historical women “firsts” when she was in elementary school. But when I brought this up to Ellen, she laughed. “Oh, she was just bossy. Even as a little kid, she was always bossing everyone around.” (The Quinns lived in Glen Cove, on a street called Libby Drive, and Chris’s next-door neighbor once made her a T-shirt that said MAYOR OF LIBBY DRIVE.)

Ellen is ten years older than Chris, and in talking with her I couldn’t help but notice she has no trace of her sister’s Lawn Guyland accent. “My mother was fairly quiet, and I’m comparatively quiet,” Ellen said. Whereas, at least in this sense, Chris is all Larry. “My father was a union guy. He had opinions, and he was going to share them. It’s a Quinn thing: If you are in a room, you are going to let everyone know you are in the room. You fill space.”

One night in mid-October, Chris was making her way through the lobby of the Sheraton Hotel and Towers in midtown, where she was to speak to yet another group of people all dressed up for the night—in this instance, the Empire State Pride Agenda fall dinner: a Big Gay Night with the Big Gay Speaker. She had an entourage of four staff and security trailing, and along the way throughout her brisk march she kept getting stopped by the kind of guys who usually recognize her: working-class outer-borough types—doormen, porters, and security guards who often want to say something surprisingly sweet. “Yo, Quinn!” they’ll shout, and maybe congratulate her on her “weddin’ ” or “nup-chools.”

Kim Catullo had joined the group tonight, and as soon as Chris and Kim got to the top of the lobby’s escalator, the bowing and scraping began: They are, after all, the most celebrated married lesbians of the year. The gays swirled around them. Nightlife fixture Montgomery Frazier planted himself in front of Quinn: “You are going to be our next mayor!” Retiring state senator Tom Duane drifted over. “Hiiiiiiii, how are yoooooouuuu?” he said, sounding like a gay Al Franken. Paul Lombardi of NY1 fame, that tall fellow from What Not to Wear, a giant drag queen. Suddenly, a very elegant, very old Madison Avenue blonde swanned by. “She’s pushing right past me to get to Kim!” Quinn shouted. It was Edie Windsor, the octogenarian whose federal case, recently taken up by the Supreme Court, may very well decide the future of marriage equality across the land. Kiss-kiss, Hello, my darling.

Before long, Quinn was introduced to the audience by Justin Vivian Bond, then took to the podium so that she could introduce Chuck Schumer. “His favorite song?” she said. “I swear to God … I am not making this up … ‘It’s Raining Men!’ ” As Schumer all but endorsed Quinn for mayor, we headed for the exits, and as we were all escalating down to the lobby, Catullo said to one of her wife’s staffers, “Did you see that guy who came up to me? He gave me his card!”

“What happened?” said Quinn, missing nothing.

Kim laughed sheepishly.

“What happened?” Quinn said, now not kidding around. “Who tried to pick you up?”


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