Quinn on the spot | East Villager & Lower East Sider

Quinn on the spot

At a candidates forum sponsored last week by Gay City News, our sister paper, the five Democrats running for mayor spent 90 minutes with hundreds of members of the L.G.B.T. community, and the results were encouraging for those hoping to move critical L.G.B.T. needs to the top of the city’s agenda in the next four years.

The candidates uniformly showed a detailed understanding of issues such as homeless youth, AIDS housing inequities, the city’s faltering commitment to H.I.V. prevention, the state ban on gestational surrogacy contracts, and the spike in potentially deadly meningitis cases among gay and bisexual men. They also acknowledged that abuse in the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk practices is a queer issue –– whether it involves the targeting of transgender women and L.G.B.T. youth of color or the false arrests of gay men in video stores.

In a forum of this sort, the greatest attention inevitably focuses on the purported frontrunner –– in this case, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. The fact that a vocal minority within the L.G.B.T. community has, in recent years, targeted the woman who could become the city’s first openly lesbian or gay mayor for harsh criticism gave this event particular political resonance. The media was watching to see if she would stumble on her home court.

To be sure, some of the criticisms Quinn’s opponents leveled at her –– particularly regarding her refusal to endorse paid sick leave legislation now pending in the City Council –– struck a chord with many audience members. Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and former City Comptroller Bill Thompson proved particularly adept at eliciting crowd encouragement for their volleys against the speaker.

That said, it is also true that Quinn earned the warmest and most enthusiastic applause from the audience at the conclusion of her opening and closing statements.

It actually appeared that some audience members both applauded the Council speaker and then jumped in to second certain criticisms thrown her way.

Quinn is clearly a potentially history-making figure. At the same time, many progressives who have known her over the past two decades are befuddled by a posture on sick leave, among other issues, that they view as fundamentally at odds with her political roots.

In the current political season, that issue is something of a proxy for other nagging doubts that have emerged over the seven years of her speakership –– misgivings that coalesced most dramatically when she offered Mayor Bloomberg indispensible Council support for his efforts to run for a third term in 2009.

At last week’s forum, she was at pains to emphasize that paid sick leave is not a question of if — it’s a question of when. The economy, in Quinn’s view, is simply too soft right now to impose a new government mandate whose effect would be felt primarily by small businesses.

The speaker mentioned a few measures that could be used to judge when the time is right –– the unemployment rate, the trend line in business closures –– but she is clearly not yet ready to commit to a specific economic trigger. She may find, as the campaign progresses, that she needs to firm up her thinking and her resolve on this question.

Among the other candidates, de Blasio and Thompson emerged at last week’s forum as the most plausible alternatives, and former Councilmember Sal Albanese, in the role of a truth-teller, burst the many bubbles created by pretty words. Comptroller John Liu arrived a half hour late and unfortunately never seemed to find his footing.

This editorial is reprinted from a slightly longer version that first ran in Gay City News.