They wanted anybody but Quinn, and they got one. Possibly even two.
The Anybody But Quinn campaign celebrated election returns last night at Mustang Sally’s at 28th Street and 7th Avenue. Culminating there in that nondescript midtown bar at the northern edge of Chelsea was a four-year campaign to make sure that, no matter what, Christine Quinn never became the city’s chief executive. The group’s alternative? Anyone. Really, anyone at all.
So when Bill de Blasio and Bill Thompson shut Quinn out of any potential runoff, the packed room exploded with cheers and applause. It was that special kind of glee you feel when someone you hate eats it on the sidewalk. Quinn tripped hard, and ABQ was partying harder.
A Cross-Section of Anger
With no single issue to unite the group, how did ABQ fill that bar’s back room with volunteers and supporters? In fact, it was full precisely because there was no single issue–according to ABQ organizers and volunteers, Quinn falls on the wrong side of all them.
Attendees of the party all told different versions of the same story: They had spent the weeks and months ahead of the primary out in their hard-to-miss cardinal red ABQ t-shirts, and the most common reaction was hearty, hearty approval.
It was a diffuse, widespread anger against Speaker Quinn that brought her campaign to its knees. She had managed to piss off so many interest groups–labor, animal rights, and gay rights activist chief among them–that the election party seemed more like a convention for the city’s rag-tag special interests than a collection of political operatives.
Voters, at least the ones clinking beer steins over her defeat, had called on years of disappointment in Quinn’s record on their pet projects to ensure her primary defeat. Importantly, she is the only candidate to provoke such ire.
“You don’t see an anti-Thompson campaign,” said John Phillips, 27, an ABQ advisor and former Executive Director the League of Humane Voters.
Anybody But Quinn: A Brief History
In 2009, filmmaker Donny Moss declared open season on Quinn in his video “Beyond the Smile,” a 10-minute short blasting the newly elected Council Speaker for blocking a citywide ban on horse-drawn carriages. Living in Quinn’s Chelsea district, Moss accused the Speaker of blocking the ban to pander to the Queens Democratic machine, which has strong ties to the industry.
In his frustration, Moss started canvassing on his own, soon attracting more and more neighborhood residents who also had lost faith in Quinn. “It just grew organically,” said Moss in an interview.
Enter New York Is Not For Sale, a coalition of administrative workers’ union Local 1180 and animal rights group NYCLASS. Fearing that Quinn might run away with the primary, the group lent funding and infrastructure to Anybody But Quinn at the start of this most recent election cycle.
With proper structure and increased visibility, New York Is Not For Sale took the one man’s axe to grind and turned it into the grassroots effort that helped derail a mayoral candidacy.
A profound sense of betrayal has held ABQ together ever since. It was Quinn’s relentless wheeling and dealing at the expense of constituents that really spelled her doom.
“In her rush to accumulate more and more power, Quinn has been waging an undeclared war against the people of New York City while claiming to be their advocates,” said Moss. “I don’t regard her as a public servant, because she puts her career ahead of the common good.”
“I think [disillusionment with Quinn] coincided with when she stopped serving her constituents,” said Phillips at the party, citing Quinn’s perfect zero on a scorecard of animal rights voting record. “I mean, this is the district that throws birthday parties for their dogs.”
Those most upset with Quinn point to her passing the buck on living wage legislation to appease the Bloomberg administration, supporting Bloomberg’s third term, compromising on paid sick leave laws, hemming and hawing on stop-and-frisk until her hand was forced by souring public sentiment, and not speaking up loud enough for the LGBT community.
The election was hers to lose: Quinn alienated all the segments of the electorate she could have depended on to solidify her early lead. “She had all the advantages, all the endorsements,” said Moss. “She has no one to blame but herself.”
If there existed so much untapped stores of anti-Quinn sentiment, why did ABQ not pick its own candidate? Why not refine its aims? In talking to party-goers, one reason jumped out: an anti-Quinn campaign allowed activists to blunt the identity politics helping drive her candidacy.
“I think that Democratic primary voters very much like the idea of having a gay female mayor,” said Moss. “I think we’ve been successful in getting women and the LGBT community to stop and take a look.” It was about showing primary voters, who tend to vote farther to the left than general election voters, that being gay and female hadn’t kept her from making choices against the interests of both groups. Why would that change as mayor?
Some volunteers were hesitant to characterize ABQ solely as an “anti-” campaign. “This is was not a negative campaign at all,” says Phillips, the advisor. “We just focused on her record in the city council.”
No one needed all of the precincts to finish reporting in; Quinn was out of the race by 10 p.m. As the night wore on, the mood became more subdued.
When asked what she would do now that there was no chance Quinn was in the runoff, NYCLASS Executive Director Allie Feldman grinned widely. “Pop champagne bottles!” Earlier there had been some light strategizing about what volunteers would do if there was to be a runoff. Now there was talk of doing shots.
Others in the room dutifully watched election results come in across the city. The festive mood had died down. ABQ had succeeded. Now all there was left to do was hope your favored Council or District Attorney candidate also survived the primary.
NY1 played on four screens at once; in favor of rolling exit poll numbers, the channel decided not to live cover Christine Quinn’s concession speech. The room moaned. A single “you suck, NY1” rang out.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified John Phillips as the former Executive Director of the Humane League. Phillips was the Executive Director of the League of Humane Voters.