Christine Quinn Dips Toe Into 2017 Mayor’s Race by Hitting de Blasio on Homelessness

Former City Council Speaker and 2013 mayoral candidate Christine Quinn very publicly criticized the de Blasio administration’s approach to the city’s record levels of homelessness this morning, laying out in both a Daily News op-ed and a policy speech the steps she believes the city needs to take to better help homeless families.

Quinn, who told the Wall Street Journal last year that she wasn’t interested in another run for City Hall, dodged the question in an interview with the paper yesterday.

"The city needs to be bolder and better orient homeless policy around the whole family — while they are in shelter and when they transition out," Quinn wrote. She believes that by keeping the shelter system oriented towards housing individuals, and not accommodating the massive influx of families, the city is letting down thousands of single mothers.

"This is the forgotten face of homelessness," Quinn writes of the seventy percent of the shelter population that is made up by families. As of August, 60,000 people were living in shelters. A third of that number were children.

Quinn, who took the reins at WIN (formerly Women in Need) in 2015, has focused on an issue that has vexed Mayor de Blasio, who inherited an already catastrophic homelessness epidemic created in large part by a Bloomberg administration that created the faulty rental assistance program Advantage, then scrapped it altogether when the city went into recession.

Mayor de Blasio has responded to the rising numbers of homeless people in the city by initiating a robust plan to build thousands of units of supportive housing, as well as providing legal assistance to keep families in their homes. Advocates for the homeless have repeatedly praised the mayor’s efforts, especially his administration’s restoration of rental subsidies and embrace of scatter-site supportive housing, which gives the homeless apartments to live in immediately instead of waiting years for new units to be built. If de Blasio hadn’t acted in such a substantive manner, advocates argue, the city’s homelessness problem would be even worse.

During her speech this morning, Quinn hit de Blasio on his administration’s ongoing battle to install shelters in neighborhoods that have shown stiff resistance to housing any of the city’s homeless population. Quinn said that the de Blasio administration had caved in to NIMBY demands when a proposed hotel-to-shelter conversion didn’t go through earlier this month in Maspeth, Queens.

City Hall has insisted that it was the hotel owner who canceled the contract and that it was going ahead with housing homeless New Yorkers in Maspeth. On Wednesday, Social Services Commissioner Steve Banks stared down the community board chairs of Queens to lay out exactly why the city needed to step up its efforts to create more supportive housing, hand in hand with local communities.

Missing from Quinn’s critiques entirely was New York's governor and de Blasio's sworn enemy, Andrew Cuomo, who has held back millions in promised funds for supportive housing for the city’s homeless. By excluding Cuomo from his share of the blame, Quinn cannily avoided a confrontation with a would-be ally, who would presumably love nothing more than to see de Blasio out of Gracie Mansion by 2018.

The pieces are already beginning to fall in place for the city’s 2017 mayoral race, with de Blasio gearing up for a tough re-election campaign. On Tuesday, longtime aide Phil Walzak left his position at City Hall to focus on de Blasio’s re-election push. Comptroller Scott Stringer has ditched the political consultancy firm he shared with de Blasio, in a strong indicator that he intends to run, while even Jimmy McMillan, the founder (and possibly sole member) of the Rent Is Too Damn High Party has started a campaign account.

How Quinn would figure into the race will most likely rest on whether she’s able to find a different tack than her unsuccessful bid three years ago, which was arguably torpedoed by her 2009 decision to let Bloomberg run for a third term.

By picking homelessness, a problem that de Blasio pledged to solve but has so far been flustered by, Quinn is attempting to re-introduce the no-nonsense problem-solver she considered herself while she was City Council Speaker. It’s still way too far out from the election to tell whether New Yorkers are ready to embrace a candidate they already soundly rejected — but it seems like Quinn has officially kicked off the 2017 election cycle by finding an issue that de Blasio can be readily criticized for.


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