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Madam Would-Be Mayor

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“Some guy.”

Nooooo.”

“Swear to God …” Back to the staffer: “Did you not witness?”

“I did,” said the staffer. “He gave her a big hug and handed her his card and said, “Use it, don’t lose it.”

“Naaaahhhhhoooo!” Quinn said, now roaring with stunned, disbelieving laughter. “A straight guy?

“Absolutely,” said Catullo. “I haven’t been hit on like that by a guy in a long time.”

“Let me see the card,” Quinn said, and Catullo pulled it away. “Let me see it!”

Quinn and her entourage had another stop—the twentieth-anniversary party for NY1 at the Public Library. Catullo bailed and jumped in a cab, and we headed down the block toward Quinn’s SUV. Clustered near her car was a gaggle of young lesbians taking a smoke break. The cutest and drunkest spotted Quinn. “Thank you so much for … like, for everything,” she said. “Can you give me a hug right now? You’re like … we love you!” Quinn cautiously hugged the woman. “Can I tell you one more thing? I am a foreigner living in America for, like, twelve years. I don’t even have a green card. Even if I marry anyone in America, I’m not going to get a green card through them, because—”

Quinn stopped her. “You know, eventually, when we get DOMA repealed and we get marriage on a federal level, then we’ll be able to address this issue.”

“I hope so!” the woman said. “I don’t want to get deported at this stage in my life. If I get deported, can you accompany me to the airport?

“Where ya goin’?” Quinn asked.

“I’m Turkish.”

“Well, we’re going to try to prevent the deportation,” Quinn said, grabbing her shoulders and looking her square in the eye. “That’s the focus! All right? Not the dark trip to the airport! What’s your name?”

“Dewey.”

“Dewey. All right, thank you.”

As Quinn got in her car and the doors closed, she said, to no one in particular: “Dewey was adorable.”

One day not long ago, I asked Quinn when she came out both to herself and to others. “To myself,” she said, “probably in college, in a fairly non-coming-outy way. I actually remember being in my dorm room and saying out loud, ‘You are not going to have this problem.’ And then I started working on Tom Duane’s campaign for City Council. I was in the super-duperest gay environment ever—and, look, at 25, it becomes hard to keep it tucked away. Tom and I were on the subway on the way to a rent-guidelines-board meeting, and I said to him, ‘I need to talk to you about something important.’ And he said, ‘Oh my God, you’re quitting.’ I said, ‘No.’ And he said, ‘What? You’re a lesbian?’ ” Here, she imitated Duane by rolling her eyes and languidly waving her hand. And then she shouted, as if to Duane, “A little more sensitivity, please!”

This was when Quinn was managing Duane’s 1991 campaign. At that point she was a few years out of college, but already fairly seasoned in politics: At Trinity, she took on so many political internships that the college later changed the rules on how many credits you could get for them. Soon after moving to New York, she was running a housing-justice campaign, which is where she got Duane’s attention. “That red hair is distinctive,” he says, “and it was more distinctive then.” When Duane won the election, he made Quinn his chief of staff, and when he left to run for State Senate in 1998, she campaigned and won the seat herself. Aside from a three-year stint leading a gay activist group called the Anti-Violence Project, she has worked in the City Council for over two decades.

One morning in October, I went down to City Hall to watch her in action. It was a full, stated meeting of the Council: almost all 51 members, present and accounted for. Quinn began by holding a press conference to introduce three pieces of legislation, and as I watched her stand in front of a garish display of municipal flags, it struck me that she is a lot like the Irish Catholic women I grew up with in Jersey: domineering and jocular, with a repertoire of exaggerated facial expressions. She did one, to reporters, where she pulled her chin into her neck and made her eyes huge, as if to say, Whaddayafuckin’kiddin’me?

The speaker was running what felt a bit like the Chris Quinn Show. Most of the questions from the press had to do with proposed new laws about bicycles. After patiently fielding a dozen or so, she finally shouted, “I have no more bike knowledge!” A few moments later, she was milling around on the floor of the Council Chambers, drinking soup from a takeout container like it was a cup of coffee, waiting for the members to take their seats. The meeting began, and what struck me most was how raucous it got. And that there were so many accents that it almost felt like the General Assembly of the U.N. At one point, things got so rowdy that Quinn yelled, “Can we get a little quiet?!” Should she succeed in her quest for the mayoralty, she will be a one-woman boon to the fortunes of SNL impressionists.


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