Quinn can also claim credit for helping to enact historic lobbying reforms. On May 24, the City Council unanimously approved three bills, introduced by Quinn at a joint news conference with the mayor in February, that ban all gifts from lobbyists to elected officials and enhance the enforcement of lobbying restrictions.
Newly elected politicians always try to push through a raft of legislation before their honeymoon period is over, but Quinn has even more reason to be in a hurry: term limits. Under the current law, which went into effect in 2001 and restricts council members to two four-year terms, 38 of the 51 city legislators, including Quinn, will be out of office by the end of 2009. “Me and everyone else are desperately trying to figure out where we’re going to land in four years,” says one council member. “We have to produce and get our headlines.”
The relationship between the City Council speaker and the mayor has always been fractious. But the past four years saw a virtual cold war at City Hall. Miller wanted Bloomberg’s job, Bloomberg wanted to keep it, and the two often seemed to put more energy into scoring political points than into working to solve the city’s problems.
Bloomberg and Quinn, on the other hand, are positively chummy. Now that Bloomberg has won his second term as mayor in a landslide and is term-limited from running again, he has been eager to forge a partnership with the speaker to secure his legacy. And Quinn has seized the opportunity. With only four years to make her mark, says Gene Russianoff, a senior lawyer with the New York Public Interest Group, “it’s wise of her to start by cooperating with the mayor.”
Ask Bloomberg and Quinn about each other, and they fawn. “I can say nothing but good things about her work ethic and her honesty and her openness and her style in terms of trying to find common ground,” says the mayor. Quinn describes Bloomberg’s style as a welcome change from the vindictive approach of his predecessor. “In the Giuliani administration, if you disagreed with him, you were shut out,” she says. Bloomberg, she says, is “100 percent a gentleman. He has been enormously helpful, open to my ideas, treated me as a real partner.”
Their lovefest is all the more remarkable given Quinn’s opposition to Bloomberg’s West Side stadium, which would have caused significant disruption in her district. “Even when she tried to block the stadium, even when she was out there screaming about my position on gay marriage, whenever I’ve met her, it’s still kiss-kiss, how are you,” says Bloomberg. (The mayor has said he is personally in favor of gay marriage, but feels obligated to enforce New York law.) Quinn says that the stadium has become a running joke in their relationship. “I’ll ask about economic development, and he’ll say”—then she mimics Bloomberg’s voice—“ ‘Well, we could have had great economic development if you’d voted for the stadium.’ And I just usually tell him to relax.”
For all the goodwill between Quinn and the mayor, the two are inevitably going to clash over term limits. Quinn campaigned for speaker by promising to try to soften the restrictions, and she’s under pressure from council members to live up to that pledge. Bloomberg vows to fight any change. “The public has spoken, twice,” he says, referring to citywide votes in 1993 and 1996 passing term limits. “Either you believe in democracy or you don’t. The arrogance of anybody to say, ‘Yeah, it’s a democracy, but I don’t agree with the public, and I want to keep my job . . . ’ ” Quinn, for the moment, anyway, is ducking the fight. “He and I disagree on whether term limits are a good thing, but exactly how we’re going to play out term limits in the council has yet to be determined.”
In her office, Quinn has surrounded herself with sentimental totems from her past. She hands me a small, beat-up metal garbage can with a newspaper story laminated on its side. It’s the tale of her maternal grandmother, Ellen Shine, who was sent as a teenager from Ireland to America to become a maid, sailing on the Titanic. She fought her way out of steerage and, as the story goes, was one of the last people to make it into a lifeboat. “That’s so Irish that they didn’t frame the story and put it on a wall,” Quinn says, laughing, as I hand back the can. “It had to be on something useful.”
Quinn points out a cut-glass bowl on a side table that belonged to her mother, Mary Callaghan Quinn, a Catholic Charities social worker who was diagnosed with breast cancer when Quinn was in second grade and died when she was 16. Quinn’s mother reacted to her illness by embarking on a crash quest to overeducate Quinn and her sister, Ellen. “She wanted us to know everything,” says Quinn. “There were horseback-riding and French lessons and bird-watching and painting and ballet and marine biology.”