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Madam Would-Be Mayor

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We arrived at the location in Staten Island, an abandoned car dealership on Hylan Boulevard that had been repurposed as a FEMA “Recovery Center.” We were early, and Quinn got out a Bobbi Brown makeup kit and freshened up her face. She pulled a big can of hair spray out of her canvas tote and said to the staffers in the backseat, “Duck!” and then blasted her cap of red hair into place. When she stepped onto the curb, there were two sisters—Joan Cusacks in Working Girl, 25 years later. They pounced on Quinn, and within seconds one of them was in tears. Turns out her house had flooded and she didn’t want to go back, ever. Quinn listened and got her a tissue. She asked where the woman was staying. “At my mom’s right now.” When Quinn asked her how that’s going, the woman’s face contorted into a rictus of terror and they both fell out laughing.

When the mayor arrived, Quinn was deep in conversation with another constituent and didn’t look up. He headed straight toward the podium and waited until one of her aides told her he was ready. They were here to announce a tax-relief program for people who lost their homes, an idea that Councilman Jimmy Oddo had suggested to Quinn, who had then taken it to the mayor. “Our hearts go out to all of the New Yorkers who really are suffering,” Bloomberg said in the least heartfelt voice imaginable. When he turned the floor over to Quinn, she projected her voice to the back of the room and immediately picked up on the anxiety in the air. “The real fear is that as bills were gonna come in they weren’t gonna have the money to pay them,” she said. “And these are hardworking people, people who saved and scrimped to buy their homes, people who probably never missed—and couldn’t imagine missing—a tax bill.” Bloomberg, who was carrying an iPad, checked it more than once while others took their turn at the microphone, at one point holding onto the edge of his podium to steady himself while he read an e-mail.

It was the night before the night before Christmas, and Quinn and Catullo were at home wrapping gifts and baking cookies, getting ready for visits with both sides of the family, the Dixie Chicks playing on the stereo. When I arrived, Catullo took their dog Justin for a walk, and Quinn ordered Chinese food and then showed me around the apartment. In the guest bedroom that doubles as an office, there is a framed portrait of Bruce Springsteen in his twenties wearing a Rutgers T-shirt on the wall. (Kim, who grew up in Jersey and went to Rutgers, is a superfan.)

The last time I had seen Catullo, her brother was still alive, so the first thing I said when she returned was how sorry I was for her loss; she talked for a moment about how difficult the past few months had been. She picked up a photograph of Anthony that looked like it was taken in the seventies. “This was during his days living in the Village,” she said. He is handsome, mustachioed, wearing a flannel shirt. Quinn ran and grabbed another photo, this one from 2006, of Anthony flanked by Chris and Kim, still handsome, still smiling. Kim, who looks just like him, is handsome herself. She is soft-spoken, but full of thoughtful questions.

Several people have told me that her relationship with Catullo has changed Quinn in some fundamental way. “I get the sense that Kim is much more of the grounded one,” says Mark Palladino, a Staten Island prosecutor and college friend of Quinn’s. “She probably gives Chris a good perspective that isn’t as knee-jerk.” Senator Kirsten Gillibrand went to their wedding and told me about a video that played during the reception. “It is so charming, very When Harry Met Sally,” she said. When I brought this up, Quinn told Catullo to put it on. She rooted around for the DVD and popped it in and said, “Wow, I haven’t watched this since the wedding.” It opens with the two of them sitting on a couch talking about how they met.

Kim: I was told she was a politician, and I said I wasn’t interested.

Chris: In?

Kim: In dating politicians. For reasons I now fully understand.

Chris: Aaaaaah-HAHAHAHAHAAA!

Catullo is a reluctant political spouse. “I’ve tried to talk her out of it,” she told me regarding Quinn’s mayoral run. “But I realize the significance of it on so many levels if she wins, and that’s the only thing that gets me past it: the impact it could have on women. And New Yorkers. And gays!” I mentioned the tantalizing notion that, should Quinn prevail, the mayor and the First Lady will both be lesbians. Catullo looked like she was going to throw up. “My heart is literally racing,” she said. Then Quinn pointed out that almost everyone who is running is married. “We haven’t had a married mayor in twelve years, which means we haven’t had a first spouse, regardless of sexual orientation, in twelve years.” All the blood had drained from Catullo’s face.

But there is something else that is tantalizing about the idea of a Quinn mayoralty, something that has little to do with what she would get done or even what her election would represent. Whether she chooses to think about it or not, she is a woman, one who happens to get very excited about wedding dresses and reads Vogue, a woman who breaks down and sobs in her SUV when she finds out that her wife’s brother is being rushed to the hospital, a woman who, when she meets a pretty girl on the street named Dewey, calls her “adorable.” She is a politician whose interior emotional life is right there on the surface, for anyone to see. She is the kind of person who worries about having sufficient emotional regard even for those she despises. It is this ability to emote and connect that offers the most vivid departure from a dozen years of Bloombergian just-the-facts-ma’am competence and equanimity.

After we polished off pork dumplings and spicy noodles, we got to talking about the day back in 2009 when gay marriage did not pass in Albany and Quinn cried at a press conference at City Hall. “Not the tough-girl image I like to put out there,” she said about tears before the cameras. “But I got upset, because what happened is that people had a choice to vote yes in a way that would have helped my life, and they voted no, and that created the risk that two 83-year-old men wouldn’t get to be at their daughters’ wedding.” She paused for a long moment. “The other night,” she continued, “our hairdresser, Dave, came over. And he had just been visiting Anthony. After our wedding, we had an after-party at the Dream hotel. It was a perfect night, and for some reason the Empire State Building was green. Anthony and Dave and Dave’s boyfriend, Alex, stayed out until like 4 a.m., just sitting on a wraparound balcony talking and drinking and whatever. And they talked about it at the hospital, and Anthony talked about just what a perfect New York moment that was. Now, if there was no wedding, there might have been a night out at a bar, and there might have been Dave and Anthony sitting on a wraparound balcony, but it wouldn’t have been that moment, that night.” She looked like she could cry, but fought it. “It wouldn’t have been the after-party of our wedding. And if you think about somebody’s dying words—well then, that’s why things like that matter.”


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