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Quinn in the Slush

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Which is a roundabout way of saying “No.” So last week Quinn announced a compromise, reached after lengthy negotiations with council members: Instead of stripping the council of discretionary spending power, as she’d originally proposed, Quinn is backing a reform package that includes online disclosure of member-item requests and a more stringent review procedure for prospective recipients.

Quinn’s new plan falls short of what the papers have demanded. She’s assiduously courted the Times in particular; its endorsement carries great weight in a Democratic primary. One week after the slush-fund scandal broke, Quinn headed to the Times’ office to explain herself to members of its editorial board (Quinn says she’s had phone chats with editorial writers at the Daily News and the Post). So far, the Times has decried the council’s spending excesses and called on Quinn to fix the system. “The Times is buying the Quinn spin: She’s been trying to wrap her arms around this recalcitrant council to clean it up,” one member says. “There’s grains of truth in that. But the reality is that she was enormously power-hungry and was a control freak. I don’t believe she wanted the $4.5 million reserve for any personal enrichment. She wanted it for total control.”

Yet if Quinn is guilty of nothing more than playing hardball—and a panicky, self-interested initial response to the slush-fund scandal—she deserves a second chance. Some of the recent pounding she’s taken has been unfair; her predecessors Miller and Vallone should be sharing the heat. Certainly some of Quinn’s explanations have been dodgy. But she’s also capable of admitting, “Did I think, as a speaker, having the [reserve] money to give out through the year might give me political leverage? Of course I did. I’m not going to lie to people that I didn’t think that. Is that a good reform thing to have thought? No … But that’s the truth.” Quinn’s consultants are counting on short attention spans and the drying up of the council’s scandals to salvage her career. But more of that kind of bluntness would do her the most good.

Lately, Quinn has put away the tissues, vigorously defended her honesty, and focused on ways to minimize the pain from Bloomberg’s budget cuts. Yet clouds hover. Quinn claims two former budget staffers didn’t follow her orders to shut down the shadowy reserve fund; investigators will no doubt want to hear whether the ex-staffers’ versions are as complimentary to Quinn. The U.S. Attorney’s office and the city’s Department of Investigation are reportedly sifting through thousands of documents, concentrating on the financial records of 100 youth groups that received member-item funding. Quinn is tormented by the idea that more surprises may lie ahead. “Not having control over any situation for anybody is a terrifying thing,” she says, pulling fiercely at her necklace again. “If you’re somebody who likes control, it’s even more terrifying.”


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