Quinn Fights for Designers

As election season gets into gear, all the candidates are staking out their turfs.  John Liu continues to give his monthly State of the City addresses and listen for the footfall of federal agents at his doorstep.  Bill DeBlasio is cementing his hold on the bisexual/interracial marriage community and promising to walk the dogs of every animal lover in Brooklyn.  

And Christine Quinn has come out swinging for one of the “untapped,” “underpromoted” New York City constituencies: designers.

According to the Times, Speaker Quinn has helped coordinate “a 12-day celebration of design this spring extending over all five boroughs.”

The paper adds:

Pronounced “NYC by Design” and interdisciplinary in scope, it will present the work of local designers and architects in museum exhibitions, conferences, studio tours, showroom displays, pop-up stores, art installations and a design film festival.

The goal is greater visibility for an industry with untapped economic potential, said City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, whose office is leading the project with a steering committee of more than 30 design leaders from business, civic and cultural groups. “We have more designers in New York City than any other U.S. city, but we do a terrible job promoting them in their totality,” she said.

Promoting designers…fair enough.  Why not.

Christine Quinn’s aspirations to be mayor have no greater cheerleader than The New York Times.  For years now the Times has promoted the Speaker of the City Council as the presumptive heir to Bloomberg’s glorious reign.  Everything is ready, and everyone on the editorial board and all their friends are ready to salute our first woman Mayor.

One problem remains: getting her elected.

Are we at City Council Watch the only ones who have noticed that Ms. Quinn’s electoral experience is rather limited?  Unlike any of her opponents, she has never been elected to anything beyond the confines of the 3rd Councilmanic District.  Moreover, in 2009, when she ran for her third term, she scarcely won a majority in the Democratic primary, taking less than 7000 votes in total.

Larry Seabrook, now penitentiary-bound, won his 2009 primary by a greater margin than Chris Quinn.

It is easy to make the mistake that Chris Quinn wants everyone to make, which is to see her standing next to Mayor Bloomberg at handshakes and press conferences for the last decade, and to see that physical proximity as a sign of her spiritual proximity to power.  But in fact, becoming Speaker of the Council requires only 25 votes other than her own.

The Speakership is a significant role within a largely ceremonial body.  More than 95% of the municipal budget process is controlled by the Mayor.  The schools are controlled by the Mayor.  The police are controlled by the Mayor.  The Council’s legislative purview is curtailed by the State.  The Speaker of the Council is the dictator of a closed circle with a small diameter.

Chris Quinn’s main primary opponents have all won City-wide races.  They have strong outer-borough support, which she lacks.  Labor, which is vital to winning a Democratic primary, is not favorable to Quinn’s dithering on living wage and sick leave legislation.

And all those years of standing next to Mayor Bloomberg, getting the image of her proximity to power imprinted in the brains of New Yorkers, are going to gall those many voters who do not forget that she is the person who forced through the antidemocratic term limits extension.

So how does Chris Quinn win?  To follow her press one would assume that she has the gay vote tied up, though that can’t be taken for granted, given her primary challenge last cycle from two out lesbians.  Marriage equality plays well in some communities and less well in others.  It’s probably a wash.

So now she is pushing herself as the pro-business candidate…perhaps a successful general election strategy, and one that the Times will applaud, but of limited appeal to union and minority voters.

So now we see the Times pushing hard to fight her corner, pretending that a Design Week in May is a brilliant innovation on Quinn’s part, rather than just another in an endless sequence of trade shows.

Well, you play to your base.  And in Quinn’s case, it appears that her new underrepresented constituency is designers.