Shake Me, Wake Me When It's Over - 2006
In short order, Quinn, the city's first woman mayor and its first openly gay chief executive, won passage of bills obligating developers to provide one unit of affordable housing for every two luxury apartments developed, along with strict new rules for enforcing the preservation of low-cost rental housing that are likely to hamstring the still pending conversion of the huge Stuyvesant Town apartment complex in Manhattan. On the transportation front, Quinn got the MTA to speed up the construction schedule for its new Second Avenue subway and to guarantee free weekend passes for transit riders. She also imposed tolls on the East River bridges and slapped new congestion charges on commercial vehicles regularly rolling through midtown streets.
Those moves were just for openers, Quinn announced at a Blue Room press conference at City Hall, where she sketched out her upcoming plans for economic development. The mayor with the flame-colored hair said she would seek to launch the long-stalled cross-harbor freight tunnel between the city and New Jersey, a project that she said would generate thousands of jobs and dramatically cut air pollution. She also stunned the city's development community by announcing that she was withdrawing support for the increasingly expensive new Moynihan Station on Eighth Avenue, calling it "plain old pork barrel." Federal funding for the venture, the mayor said, would be redirected to projects improving neighborhood transportation. "You're not going to see business as usual anymore," Quinn said.
The policy moves represented a dramatic turnaround for the former City Council Speaker, whose rise to power had previously been guided by a cautious, go-along-to-get-along strategy in which Quinn had curried favor with both Democratic Party leaders and former mayor Michael Bloomberg. Standing in the back of the Blue Room, veteran public relations man Howard Rubenstein muttered loudly enough for reporters to hear, "I don't know who this mayor is anymore." When he realized he'd been speaking aloud, Rubenstein quickly added, "That's off-the-record."
But Quinn's newly aggressive approach was only the most recent surprise in a year that has seen New York politics turned topsy-turvy.
Going into the 2009 election, conventional wisdom had it that New York voters wanted someone a lot like Bloomberg to replace him in office, someone low-key, not wedded to the political parties. Their overwhelming choice, surveys showed, was Police Commissioner Ray Kelly who, even though he never said a lot, was so reassuring in his tough-guy presence that he consistently earned the highest approval ratings. Kelly, of course, dropped any consideration of a mayoral bid once President Hillary Clinton nominated him to serve as her Homeland Security secretary. Clinton's choice was applauded for its wisdom, but in an even happier moment for Democrats, it delivered a sizzling zinger to former president George W. Bush, since the appointment recalled Bush's own miserable experience when he had nominated former city police commissioner Bernard Kerik as his own security watchdog, only to see the nomination quickly dissolve into scandal.
With Kelly out of the picture, the Someone-Like-Bloomberg field narrowed dramatically. Time Warner chief Richard Parsons let it be known he wasn't interested, a big letdown for the GOP's national strategists, who were already counting on a big bang from having an African American millionaire on their ticket. That left Bloomberg's economic development czar, Daniel Doctoroff, another multimillionaire who had entered government for the fun of it and was eager to stick around. Doctoroff easily won the Republican nomination, but his candidacy floundered in the general election under the guidance of campaign adviser Jay Kriegel, the snowy-haired veteran of the Lindsay administration who also ran Doctoroff's failed effort to bring the 2012 Olympics to the city. Doctoroff started the campaign with a wide lead over his Democratic challenger, but he stumbled badly in the debates when he acknowledged that, as deputy mayor, he had sought to lease portions of Central Park to a close friend who headed one of the city's largest development firms.
Through mid October, the polls showed Quinn running neck and neck with Doctoroff, but her ratings soared after she won a crucial and surprise endorsement from Rudy Giuliani. After narrowly losing to Clinton in the bitter presidential election of 2008, the ex-mayor had withdrawn from the public eye only to re-emerge to announce that he had decided to undergo a sex-change operation. Appearing in the same dress he had worn during his 1997 Inner Circle role as Victor/Victoria, Giuliani said, "I need to be who I really am." The new transgender Giuliani also underwent something of a political transplant as well, for he soon said that he was re-registering as a Democrat, the party to which he had belonged as a youth, when his hero had been Robert F. Kennedy. Appearing at a joint endorsement press conference for Quinn, accompanied by his new friend, former New Jersey governor James McGreevey, Giuliani said that Quinn "offered the kind of change New York City needs."
Although political pundits said Giuliani's endorsement might hurt as much as it helped, Quinn's poll numbers began a steady rise, culminating in her 3-2 win over Doctoroff. Celebrating the victory on election night, Quinn appeared onstage at a sweltering and packed ballroom in the Sheraton Hotel surrounded by family and supporters, including Giuliani and key Quinn advisers Liz Holtzman, Carol Bellamy, and Ruth Messinger. Behind her, someone held up a photo of Bella Abzug, the late feminist firebrand who lost her own bid for City Hall in the late 1970s. "Isn't this something?" Quinn shouted hoarsely to the crowd. "Don't you just love it?"