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Even when Quinn has been able to push LGBT-related legislation through the City Council, her critics denigrate it as too little, too late. Trans activist Pauline Park has condemned Quinn for "collaborating with the mayor's office" on an anti-school bullying program that Park called "completely ineffective." But Quinn had to hammer out something agreeable to the mayor after he vetoed her original plan. Meanwhile, Quinn lobbied in Albany for the Dignity for All Students Act, which has since become law.
Nathan Schaefer, the head of the Empire State Pride Agenda, one of the major LGBT rights groups that have endorsed Quinn, got to know her when he was public policy director at GMHC. He praises her work directing council funds toward HIV education and prevention. "We feel very strongly that she is the best candidate with the most vision for the future of the city and the strongest record of delivery to the LGBT community," he says. "That's why we felt it important to come out for an early endorsement."
Hoylman, too, commends her use of the speaker's office to put LGBT issues front and center. After an outbreak of meningitis among gay men, which the Voice recently reported, he worked with her on a recommendation that insurers cover vaccinations. "I'm not sure that, if we didn't have an LGBT speaker, we could have gotten that done as quickly as we did," he says.
Dobbs complains that "she's not just tough, she's vindictive," but no recent mayor has been exactly touchy-feely. And Quinn's defenders say she has similarly—if not always pleasantly—transformed a toothless City Council into an effective counterweight to Gracie Mansion and Albany. "People forget what the City Council was like before she became speaker, how profoundly she changed the institution," said Rachel Lavine, a New York State Democratic committeewoman and longtime LGBT activist who's served on the board of the LGBT Center and Victory Fund and headed the Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats. "She is very smart on policy. It would be nice to have a mayor who doesn't rely on her staff, but gets it firsthand."
Are the LGBT anti-Quinn activists holding her to a higher standard because she's one of their own? "Almost all the vocal opponents of Christine Quinn are gay," Jervis says. "They're saying, 'My idol has disappointed me.' We hold ourselves to higher standards, so we feel doubly betrayed when they fall short."
Judging from the star-studded invitation to an upcoming fundraiser, many of the city's notable LGBT personalities are following actress Cynthia Nixon to back Bill de Blasio. But as public advocate, de Blasio is running with the benefit of having one of the most ambiguous, least powerful, and least accountable jobs in city government. Both of Quinn's other primary opponents have served as city comptroller, another largely advisory position, with direct control only over pension funds. In other words, not one of Quinn's Democratic rivals has been compelled to push legislation through the council and convince the mayor to sign it into law.
As speaker, Quinn has to deal with every issue affecting the entire city. That means working with 50 other councilmembers who span the political spectrum. "She's the most progressive speaker we have ever had," Duane says. "She's brought people from South Brooklyn to Staten Island to the Northwest Bronx together—not just the liberal West Side of Manhattan, but throughout the city."
The city may be overwhelmingly Democratic, but it hasn't elected a Democratic mayor in 20 years. The record of progressives in city government is terrible. The last effective progressive mayor held office in the '30s—and Fiorello La Guardia was a Republican. Holding progressives to a platonic ideal of virtue has never worked. "The fringe left is just as strident as the Tea Party on the right," says Pinter.
In the end, all the Facebook postings, voter outreach, blogs, protests, and op-eds may not sway voters who recognize the historical importance of a female and out gay mayor living in Gracie Mansion. LGBT voters will likely choose identity over ideology, as they did in Houston, where another out lesbian mayor, Annise Parker, coasted to re-election as a pro-business fiscal hawk.
There's also a generational divide at work here. "Invariably, it's the older gay people who are supportive of us," says Moss. "The younger ones look at us like we have three heads." He attributes this to the wisdom of age, but Dobbs may be closer to the truth: "As the gay movement has made gains, the grassroots has withered," he says. The gay rights movement was supposed to be about winning a place at the table. Is the LGBT community willing to lose that because Christine Quinn doesn't pass the purity test? "This is a historic moment," says Hoylman. "To elect one of our own in New York City—that can't be underestimated."
"Whether I think she's worthy is probably a moot issue, because she'll win in a cakewalk, " says Jervis. "If Christine Quinn is elected, she'll be the most powerful and visible gay politician in the history of the world. That's a landmark achievement we can look forward to—in spite of the issues."
This article was corrected to reflect the fact that while Chris Hughes and Sean Eldridge were invited, they did not attend the the Victory Fund champagne brunch fundraiser.