De Blasio's rivals: Christine Quinn weighs in on the mayor

De Blasio's rivals: Christine Quinn weighs in on the mayor

De Blasio's rivals: Christine Quinn weighs in on the mayor
January 23, 2017

In the center of a homeless shelter basement last month, Christine Quinn praised an Upper East Side steakhouse for serving up an early Christmas dinner for 200 families.

Quinn, president and CEO of Win – a shelter and advocacy group previously called Women In Need – told City & State that many people wound up in the East Harlem complex after being let down by various people and institutions. Shelter residents need to see that people are there for them and believe in them, Quinn said, gesturing toward the volunteers dishing up food and urging children to pose for a photo on Santa’s lap.

As she described her goal of inspiring fellow New Yorkers to help break the cycle of homelessness, Quinn paused to encourage mothers to take second helpings back to their units and to chat with children about Saint Nick’s “real name.”

“How can you know they (families with children) are 70 percent of who is in shelter, and look the other way? If you know the facts, you can’t,” Quinn said. “We’ve come to believe that shelters are the problem and that homeless people are the problem. That’s not true. The societal conditions that lead people to homelessness – those are the problems.”

Quinn, the former New York City Council speaker and the early frontrunner in the 2013 mayoral race before losing to Bill de Blasio, has used her position as a nonprofit leader to take on her old rival – possibly paving the way for another run at City Hall.

At an Association for a Better New York breakfast in October, she argued that the de Blasio administration was failing to counteract stereotypes about who is homeless and the causes behind homelessness. False narratives have contributed to City Hall’s inability to counteract a not-in-my-backyard mentality and build the shelters families need, Quinn said. Instead, the city has relied on hotels and apartment units that Quinn described as ill-suited for transitioning families to self-sufficiency. She also called on the city to invest more in counseling and other services needed by the many victims of domestic violence in the shelter system and to expand income-building programs.

Additionally, Quinn has penned op-eds on where city homelessness policy errs and worked with Win to launch an ad campaign highlighting how homeless mothers are similar to other New Yorkers.

If Quinn does challenge de Blasio, it won’t be the first – or the second – time they’ve bumped heads. The two clashed during a competition for the City Council speakership that Quinn ultimately won, making her the first female and openly gay lawmaker to hold the position, according to the Daily News. During her losing 2013 mayoral primary run, Quinn struggled to beat back the perception – encouraged by de Blasio – that she worked closely with former Mayor Michael Bloomberg to prioritize wealthy New Yorkers’ interests. Her vote allowing Bloomberg to seek a third term proved particularly controversial.

Since the last election cycle, Quinn has emerged as a prominent voice promoting female leadership. She appeared on national television as a surrogate for the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. And while serving a special adviser to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, she worked with the Women’s Equality Party he launched, though critics viewed the endeavor as mostly aimed at buttressing the governor’s image. Quinn continues to serve as vice chairwoman of the state Democratic Committee, a body Cuomo holds significant sway over.

And recently, Quinn caught the attention of former Bloomberg aide, Bradley Tusk, who is leading a campaign to draft a viable de Blasio challenger, according to The New York Times. Back in 2015, Quinn dismissed the idea of running against de Blasio in 2017, telling The Wall Street Journal it would be “disingenuous” for her to do so. Now she seems to have changed her tune, but she declined to elaborate on her future prospects beyond saying she was focused on her current job.

“I feel a huge sense of responsibility … to make sure that I lead Win in a way that all of us together can help each one of these people break the cycle of homelessness,” Quinn told City & State, “and that’s not a small order.”

Sarina Trangle