For Christine Quinn, mayoral campaign is latest in a series of political firsts
Christine Quinn is poised to become the first female and openly gay mayor of New York City — if she can get back to the top of a crowded mayoral race.
Christine Quinn is no stranger to firsts.
From her start as the chief of staff to Tom Duane, the first openly gay and openly HIV-positive councilmember, to her current position as the first openly gay City Council Speaker, Quinn’s career has been full of firsts.
And now she's poised to become the first female and openly gay mayor of New York City — if she can fight her way back to the top of a crowded mayoral race in which she was once seen as the easy frontrunner.
At a campaign stop at Tom's Diner in Coney Island, a Windsor Terrance woman named Maureen Walsh shyly approached Quinn and said, "I have an 18-year-old daughter who is so excited about you."
Walsh said this is the first election in which her daughter Maggie will be able to vote.
"She loves that she's running, she loves Hillary Clinton, she wants to see more women leaders," Walsh said. "Strong women, you know? That's a great role model."
Earlier that day, a new Quinnipiac poll announced Bill de Blasio had strong support from 30 percent of voters critical of the NYPD's stop-and-frisk policy. Quinn was trailing him at 24 percent.
Quinn dismissed the poll results, saying she was "absolutely not" concerned.
"The one thing in life you can bet your mortgage on is polls go up and down," she said.
Despite the polls, Quinn is still perceived by some supporters, including Coney Island's feisty Greek Orthodox priest Eugene Pappas, as "the most viable candidate."
Her gender, as well as her sexuality, was also noted by Pappas, who had earlier been photographed holding a Quinn campaign sign and shouting, "She's got God on her side, baby!"
"Her gay background is not to be overlooked," Pappas said. "There's a great percentage of people in the city who look to her for leadership and identity."
In light of a recent spate of violent anti-gay attacks, the latest of which occurred just last week in Chelsea, on a street where Quinn once lived, the prospect of a gay mayor seems particularly meaningful.
Quinn rejected the notion that the attacks might indicate the city isn't ready to be led by a gay woman.
"The folks that have committed these crimes, they're all horrible," Quinn said. "They're not New York, and we can't for one second let them think they are New York. They don't speak for us. They don't represent the values of this city."
Some have accused Quinn of not representing the values of the city, particularly in her role in overturning term limits in 2008 — enabling Bloomberg, several other city officials and herself to all be elected to third terms.
"I made a decision I knew was going to be unpopular, but I did it because I thought it was going to be the right thing," she insisted. "And I think what you want in a leader is somebody who's going to stand up and make a decision even if you think it's going to be unpopular."
Quinn, often seen as the savvy political strategist of the race, particularly in contrast to de Blasio, who has positioned himself as the most progressive choice, insisted she has often fought against the political grain, highlighting instances when she and Bloomberg have butted heads.
She said that Bloomberg's homeless policies are especially egregious, and that the Department of Homeless Services is one city agency that will require "a big overhaul."
But she argued many of the agreements she's negotiated with Bloomberg have saved the city from potentially dire consequences.
"In the first three years I was Speaker," she said, "the mayor and I took $8 billion in prepaid bills and put $3 billion in a rainy day fund."
More than 12 hours after her first campaign appearance of the day on the morning news show Morning Joe, Quinn was working the line at a Huey Lewis and the News concert in Coney Island.
"Ms. Quinn, when you win, vote from your heart, okay?" urged a man in a hat and sunglasses. Quinn nodded.
"It's serious," he pressed, as an older man in a hat shaking Quinn's hand mused, "You look nicer in person."
"You wanna know what else?" shouted a man with a graying beard further down the line. Quinn turned inquiringly. "You're so much prettier than Weiner."
Quinn burst out laughing.
"Let's set a higher bar!" she declared.
Follow Danielle Tcholakian on Twitter @danielleiat