The Bloomberg administration’s handling of the horrific devastation of Hurricane Sandy has an interesting political element to it that most New Yorkers might not have registered.
There, for the TV cameras, alongside Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, was, Zelig-like, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, looking dour and concerned. And there, touring the fire devastation and giving TV news interviews in the Breezy Point section of Queens, alongside a majordomo of state politics, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, was Speaker Christine Quinn. And there chatting in studio with two NBC news anchors, was, once again, Christine Quinn. And again, next to Bloomberg on Tuesday afternoon, there was Quinn.
Although the Democrat has legislative authority over the council, Quinn has no power over the emergency agencies, nor over any of the mayoral agencies, nor over Con-Edison, the National Guard, nor emergency powers relevant to a major crisis like a hurricane. Although she’s influential inside the marble corridors of City Hall, she’s not so well-known outside of them.
“She’s got no executive power,” a City Hall observer says. “She can introduce legislation. On the hurricane, she’s just backing the mayor on everything when she’s supposed to be the person on the other side of City Hall questioning what he does.”
So why was she there in the aftermath of the hurricane? It looked a little bit from here like Bloomberg and Schumer (whose wife, Iris Weinshall, was a transportation commissioner under Bloomberg) were giving Quinn a cut of the spotlight to help raise her profile in advance of her mayoral run next year.
You have to wonder whether her possible opponents, including former comptroller Bill Thompson, Comptroller John Liu, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, were grinding their teeth at her presence in the Blue Room. In other words, while Bloomberg can’t blatantly campaign for Quinn now, he can certainly give her a platform. Was that all it was about?
“I think this is totally a political ploy,” says a former city official. “He’s not making endorsements, but he’s positioning her very well. Everyone wants to see the press conferences, and she is now a very visible face.”
The mayor’s office and the Speaker’s office did not respond with comment by press time.
Those who followed the tenure of Mayor Rudy Giuliani recall that Speaker Peter Vallone Senior didn’t get such invitations until late in Rudy’s mayoralty, and most of that took place after the 9/11 attacks. And Comptroller Thompson, who served from 2002 to 2010, got those invitations very, very sparingly from Bloomberg.
As for Quinn, over the years, Mayor Bloomberg has invited her to stand behind him at least once a month. Of course, Quinn did a major favor in turn for Bloomberg by wrangling just enough Council votes to give the mayor a third term. She backed Bloomberg’s claim that the declining economy made a third term necessary, but few outside of City Hall bought that, just as they didn’t buy Giuliani’s unsuccessful claim that 9/11 made a third term necessary for him.
Her oddest presence was when she appeared in August at the side of Police Commissioner Ray Kelly at the midtown crime scene, where a crazed gunman murdered a former co-worker and was then shot fatally by police, who also injured nine civilians. Although the incident took place in her district, one wonders whether Kelly thought it was a good idea for her to be present.