At last, an openly gay politician had a serious chance to be elected to the city’s highest office. “There’s no question that Speaker Quinn’s candidacy is an historic opportunity for New York City,” said Stonewall Democrats president Melissa Sklarz, as her organization endorsed Quinn. “We will urge New Yorkers to stand with [Quinn] as the next mayor.” The Stonewall Democrats, the local party’s largest LGBT political group, was joined in its backing of the Speaker by the weekly Gay City News. In an August 20 editorial, the newspaper wrote, “Our choice is Christine Quinn…in this campaign, she’s the only one putting forth new proposals on LGBT concerns.”
Quinn helped organize a massive rally and vigil on May 20, in response to the hate-crime killing of Mark Carson, 32, a gay black man who was shot to death in Greenwich Village. Carson’s death occurred amid a frightening rash of anti-gay violence in the city, and Quinn also helped arrange greater police protection in her district to prevent future gay-bashings. With such an apparently deep connection to, and so much apparent support from, the city’s LGBT community, how did Quinn lose the gay vote?
The rumblings of discontent over Quinn’s candidacy from some quarters of the LGBT community began growing louder by early May. “Quinn is a classic old-style machine politician,” longtime LGBT activist Bill Dobbs growled, “wrapped in lavender paper.” Once the head of the Anti-Violence Project (AVP) in the city, Quinn’s “head exploded,” says Dobbs, when she got her first taste of real power. Other gay activists say they began to take issue with Quinn when they saw her changing her positions. “She;s used the fact that she was an activist, that she’s a woman, that she’s a lesbian,” filmmaker Donny Moss told the Village Voice, “to justify this doctrine that it’s OK to move to the right.” Moss added that Quinn “has betrayed the LGBT community when it was expedient.”
Another issue that drew gay ire against Quinn was the NYPD’s controversial “stop-and’frisk” policy, recently declared unconstitutional by the federal courts because it disproportionately targeted minorities. “Even though the face of the LGBT community in New York City is white men, that’s not the makeup,” Fordham University political science professor Christina Greer observes. “if you’re black and gay, ‘stop-and-frisk’ may be a primary issue.” In addition, Quinn faced challenges on another hot-button NYPD issue affecting the LGBT community: the notorious “condom-carry” arrest policy. Although the city’s Department of Health is waging an aggressive HIV-prevention campaign, a key component of which is widespread free condom distribution, police were still routinely arresting people found to be carrying condoms, and charging them with prostitution. The majority of those locked up under such pretenses were LGBT. “It’s absurd,” said Jason Kelleher, who was picked up on such a charge (later dismissed), “because now you have one policy defeating another.” Quinn came out against the policy, saying “Condoms being found on somebody and used against them should be changed,” but made no indication of doing so legislatively in the City Council.
Quinn’s support among the LGBT community was further affected by her role in the closure of St. Vincent’s Hospital on Seventh Avenue, in her district. Her critics see that episode as a prime example of Quinn’s allegiance to powerful business interests–in this case the real estate magnate Rudin family, which is converting the hospital to luxury apartments. “It’s appalling what happened to the hospital,” says Alan Baxter, a forty-year Village resident. Quinn never attended any of the numerous demonstrations attempting to save the facility. The loss of St. Vincent’s, and its massive HIV/AIDS treatment program, still strikes a nerve with local LGBTs.
In the end, the LGBT community largely shunned Quinn at the polls on Primary Day, giving her rival Bill De Blasio those critical percentage points he needed to avoid a runoff with second-place finisher Bill Thompson, and become the de facto Democratic mayoral candidate. De Blasio, indeed, came from seemingly out of nowhere to overtake and defeat the well-known Quinn, in a stunning political upset. Did the Quinn campaign even see this coming?