New York City Council Speaker Christine Callaghan Quinn is running hard to be the first woman and lesbian Mayor of New York City (also the first Irish one in fifty years!). She was born into an Irish family as one of two daughters. Her mother Mary Quinn died of breast cancer when the Christine in 1982. Her father, Lawrence, is one of her biggest champions!
Coming from a devout grassroots Democratic background her first job was Executive Director of the Housing Justice Campaign. She also served as ED for New York Anti-Violence Project .
She was elected to City Council in 1999 representing sections of Manhattan. After serving on the Council for seven years she was elected by the body to be their Speaker. She was the first women and first openly LGBT person ever to be elected Speaker of the New York City Council.
The Speaker came out of the closet as she was running former State Senator Tom Duane's first campaign in 1991. Quinn married her wife, lawyer Kim Catullo, in May of 2012 after New York passed marriage equality.
From the campaign trail, here are 'Five Questions For ....Christine Quinn".
1. Your wife, Kim and you, have only been married a year. How do you manage in the middle of a campaign to stay connected and find time together?
Today, many New York families are struggling to make basic ends meet. So, in terms of having tough time carving out together-time with Kim - we are very fortunate to have that problem.
It's New York City in 2013 – majority of households are multi-career, so there are a series of compromises whether you are newlyweds like us, or you have been married for forty–five years. Kim and I deal with this the way other New Yorkers do: you work together to find a balance. We try to carve out a day – or theses days, a morning or afternoon – each weekend that is just for us.
We also trade off. If Kim has an early meeting, I take the morning walk with the dogs. Kim is the cook in the family – so if she comes home late we order Chinese take-out or head to a coffee shop or restaurant in the neighborhood together to eat. We talk as much as we can throughout the day. Kim works long, hard hours and also travels all over the country for her job, as an attorney. I was already in the Council when we met, so we haven't really known anything else.
2. Some of the attacks on you have been ugly, bitter and personal. How do you handle such anger directed toward you?
I have been in public life for a long time as an elected official, an advocate, and a community organizer, so you find a way to weather it. Thick skin is a must. I think it's harder on Kim than it is on me – especially if the base of the attack just isn't factual. As a lawyer, the nonfactual drives her crazy. Politics invites and ignites passion, and I am glad that New Yorkers are opinionated and outspoken about the issues that they care about. We wouldn't be who be are as a city otherwise.
3. What is the most common misconception you believe residents of New York has about you?
That I am a natural redhead! In all seriousness, It's not so much a misconception about me as it is a misconception about what it means to govern and how you do it. I think you can get a lot done in public service without throwing around insults, criticizing and pointing fingers, or playing political brinkmanship. I try to do everything I can to work with people, even when we disagree. I find that if you get people into a room, sit down and try to have a conversation about where the points of agreement are and where the disagreements are, if you work at it, you can find common ground. I also believe, when you can't find that common ground and disagreements are strong, you can disagree amicably and without the vitriol.
Unfortunately, Washington has set a bad example for the rest of the country, but as Speaker of the City Council I have tried to show there are other ways to govern. When I find areas of agreement with the Mayor I work with him, and when I disagree with him, I do so openly- but respectfully. Most recently I sued him over homeless policy and overrode his veto of paid sick leave. When the Mayor wanted to lay off 4,000 teachers, I made sure that the parties – the Mayor, myself and the union - stayed at the table, kept talking, and we saved those jobs. If we did not have a productive relationship – we would have lost those teachers. If leadership is contentious, or can't work together to solve problems and run the city, New York grinds to a halt, and that's not acceptable. That's Washington, DC. I don't want that for New York.
4. Who have been your personal hero's or heroine's in politics?
I am inspired every day by the advocacy and heroism of groundbreaking figures. I put Edie Windsor and Robbie Kaplan in that category. Edie Windsor was just an everyday citizen. When she got that tax bill after her wife Thea died, she could have just paid the bill and given up. But she didn't give up. She took the United States of America to court - and with Robbie handling her case, she won. These type of women not only inspire me but will inspire young women for generations to come – and let it be shown on the record that it took two New York lesbians to overturn DOMA.
There are others. Barbara Hughes was a member of ACTUP, who took action as her friends died and the government did nothing. She went on to found the Pink Panthers – which was instrumental in combating the rise of anti-LGBT violence sweeping the West Village and Chelsea in the late 80s and early 90s. Barbara turned down a lucrative career, and has always devoted herself to grassroots social justice, direct action, and community empowerment. Today, she teaches cooking skills to homeless men and women in recovery – and her heroism inspires me and pushes me every day.
The same goes for Jane Wood, an incredible tenant activist on the West Side when I was just starting out as an organizer in my 20s. Jane was 90 lbs. soaking wet and 4'11"- but a giant in community activism. She saved thousands of poor and working class tenants from eviction, as her neighborhood gentrified; she was a woman who stood in front of the wrecking ball more than once. It's that fight and grit that pushes me.
I am also inspired equally by everyday stories. Maybe they will not be in history books, like Edie and Robbie. There are everyday heroes who change the lives of their families and communities in small and large ways and that's heroism too. For instance, in today's economy, a single mom working two jobs to support her family is an everyday hero."
5. What is the most embarrassing or funny occurrence so far in this campaign?
I'm lucky enough that I get to be with New Yorkers every day, rain or shine. My favorite funny moment of the campaign so far was the first day – we were in every borough, walking and talking – from Inwood, to Hunts Point, to Forest Hills, to Bed Stuy to Brighton. In Hunts Point, a bus stopped – filled with folks coming from church - and the bus driver called my name. I ran off of the sidewalk and onto the bus to meet voters