In October 2008, Christine Quinn may have made the gamble of her political career. New York City Council speaker since 2007 and on course to be term-limited out of office following the 2009 elections, Quinn announced she would support Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal to extend mayoral and City Council term limits.
While Bloomberg argued that given the financial crisis, government continuity and stability would best serve the interests of the city, opponents argued that a third term overrode the will of the people, who in two voter referendums had upheld two-term limits. Extending another term would not only give Bloomberg a chance at another four years, it would also allow 35 of the 51 council members would have been barred, the opportunity to run.
On October 23, Quinn presided over a 29-23 City Council vote to extend term limits. The mayor naturally signed the bill, though he only squeaked out a narrow victory the following year over former comptroller and current mayoral candidate Bill Thompson, garnering 51% of the vote to Thompson’s 46%.
Nearly five years after term limits were extended (and then promptly reinstated after Bloomberg was safely through to his third term), many New Yorkers have not let go of their bitterness towards what many saw as an abuse of power and a mockery of democracy. Notably, though, with Bloomberg unable to run for a fourth term, their rage has been directed towards Quinn.
Quinn, who likely saw her third term as greasing her rise from speaker to mayor and who has made it absolutely clear that she had no regrets about changing term limits, now has everything to lose from her decision.
By most accounts, Bloomberg and Quinn have had a close relationship. Although Quinn, through her decisions on creating an independent police commission and paid-sick leave stances, has sometimes been out of step with the mayor, much of that can be seen as distancing herself from her controversial predecessor in an election year.
At times this year, Bloomberg has seemingly thrown Quinn an opportunity to practice looking like the mayor. For instance, at several public events this year that the mayor traditionally presides over, including Groundhog Day at the Staten Island Zoo, Bloomberg never showed and Quinn assumed the honors.
Simultaneously, however, claims that Bloomberg had tried to convince Hilary Clinton and former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell to run for office, have seemingly cast his support in doubt. Since those revelations, the mayor has had little to say in the way of an endorsement.
Potentially the larger question, though, is how helpful Bloomberg’s blessing would be to Quinn. Bloomberg, a brash and strident personality, is leaving his town after 12 years in which New Yorkers have held strong and not necessarily warm feelings towards their mayor. His aficionados boast of his real-estate development accomplishments and the city’s enhanced physical architecture. Others shudder at the way he took over city public schools, shutting many traditional stakeholders out of school reform.
Thus, once-dormant stakeholders in the Bloomberg years such as labor unions have been eager to reassert their clout now that that the billion-dollar mayor is heading out the door. With many of the Democratic candidates posturing to gain access to the unions' organizing machines and endorsements, Quinn has had to distance herself from many of her old allies from the Bloomberg era.
It’s hard to say whether Quinn anticipated this divorce, or perhaps more aptly amicable separation. Unlike Bloomberg, she will be running as a Democrat in a pool where most of the candidates seem to be aggressively touting their past progressive remarks and accomplishments.
Should Quinn win the primary, potentially these allies and Bloomberg would stand up to back her. The city's unions, in particular, would likely back her or stay mum before backing a potential Republican.
Still, though, in the end, what will a third Bloomberg term have gotten Christine Quinn? At this stage of the game it appears it's just won her a fickle and quiet ally who may not be there for her when she needs it most.