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Madam Would-Be Mayor

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More than one person has pointed out to me that if Quinn were a man, her working relationship with Bloomberg would be covered much more respectfully by the press, but it would also likely be a lot less interesting. “It’s not that complicated,” Quinn told me when I asked about their rapport. “People have asked me, ‘How is it that you have such a good relationship with the mayor?’ And this is the truth, and it sounds a little arrogant, but it kind of fits into my little mind-over-matter worldview: When I got elected speaker, I decided that the mayor and I would have a productive and cordial working relationship, and because I decided it, it was so. And when we get in meetings and he starts going on, or my people start going on, or his people start going on, I just say, ‘Stop! We’re not doing this. And if we are unable to not do this today, we will adjourn and come back when we are able to not do this.’ Which doesn’t mean we’re going to agree all the time, but we’re just not going to get involved in petty politics or stupid foolery that wastes time. He’s actually much more silly than people think. Sometimes in meetings he’s just telling stories and goofing around. And he’s got a potty mouth.”

When I asked for her take on his positives and negatives, she said, “In a weird way, they are one and the same. You cannot say this guy doesn’t have big ideas. Whether it’s a cockamamy stadium on the West Side of Manhattan or the wisdom to see that we should ban smoking in restaurants or congestion pricing, he is willing to put big ideas out there without the guarantee they’re going to succeed. That’s unusual, not just in politics, but in life. Now, you could also argue that at times he needs to listen a little more to what people are saying.”

I suggested that perhaps after twelve years, New Yorkers’ idea about what kind of person the mayor is supposed to be has changed. She looked at me like this had never occurred to her. “Oh, I don’t know.” The not-very-charming but super-­competent CEO type, I said. “It’s funny. New Yorkers clearly like the mayor,” she said. “That’s a fact. And they love Ed Koch! Who was a different kind of mayor! I think New Yorkers have the ability to see positives and like different things and different ways of doing stuff.” We talked for a moment about Giuliani, for whom she has far less warm feelings. “I did not like him very much,” she said. But then she brought up 9/11 and went somewhere surprising. “Seeing this guy who for so long I thought of as heartless in such emotional distress was an important learning experience. It taught me that everybody, regardless of what you think of them, has pain, has emotion, has loss. And that, in a weird way, is a very powerfully uniting thing. Thinking about 9/11 and him and mayors lately, that’s helped remind me not to write anybody off.”

Quinn became more cautious when I asked, point-blank, what kind of city she wants New York to be under her mayoralty. “A network of neighborhoods,” she responded. “In Queens, you don’t send your mail to Queens. You send it to Bayside, to Flushing, to Sunnyside, because people’s neighborhood identities matter. We have lost a bit of our neighborhood identity in kind of the Duane Reade–ing of New York. I worry about that.” I mentioned Bloomberg’s notorious quote about the city being a luxury product. “One of the things I loved about Chelsea,” she said, “is that on Eighth Avenue, there is the Rawhide bar—not a luxury product. And for many years there were Latino guys from the neighborhood who had a folding card table every Friday and Saturday night and played dominoes. And they knew every guy who walked into the Rawhide, and every guy that walked in the Rawhide knew them. A leather bar may or may not be the best example, but it is the type of neighborhood experience we want to be able to have, what Jane Jacobs called ‘the eyes on the streets’ all watching out for each other.”

I pressed a little harder; neighborliness did not seem much of a platform. What would you do differently from Bloomberg? Again, caution. “I think whoever the next mayor is will do things differently because they are different people and they come from a different place.” She went on in this vein for a while, but then finally settled on an answer about inclusiveness that is echt Quinn. “I want an administration that would be fueled by the recognition that actually hearing from people and letting them drive the agenda in part not only makes your agenda better, but makes the city better, because then everybody is invested in it, and everybody is lifted up by the power that position and the title holds, not just the person who happens to be lucky enough to be in it.”


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