Christine Quinn is thinking about it

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Quinn at City Hall. (Dana Rubinstein)
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Christine Quinn doesn't seem to like Mayor Michael Bloomberg's bid to ban big soda servings, but she doesn't really seem to dislike it all that much, either.

In fact, the Council speaker's stance on that issue—and on paid sick leave, and stop-and-frisk, and pension reform, and a number of other divisive matters—is distinctly squishy.

Quinn, who will be running next year to succeed Bloomberg, purportedly opposes the mayor's proposal to bar some establishments, like restaurants and movie theaters, from serving soda in big containers. But when she was asked what the Council was going to do about it, she said almost precisely nothing.

"We'll have data in the next year or so to see if it's working and to see who was right and who was wrong," Quinn said at a press conference on Wednesday. "And then action can be taken based on who was right and who was wrong."

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What about that legislative effort by some councilmembers to make the NYPD more thoroughly investigate car crashes, even when victims don't die, does she have any thoughts on that?

"As with all legislation on the day that it's introduced, it will be referred to committee, I will review it, and then it will make its way through the legislative process," said Quinn.

Quinn likes the idea of paid sick leave, a proposal supported by her primary opponents that would require some employers to give their staff five paid sick days off a year. But the mayor opposes it, and for the moment, so does she, “with the current state of the economy and so many businesses struggling to stay alive."

When the police commissioner said leaders from crime-ridden communities should do more to stem violence than complain about stop-and-frisk, an assertion that prompted some displeasure in the Council's progressive caucus, Quinn positioned herself somewhere in the middle.

She vaguely supports pension reform, but declines to say precisely what that reform should look like.

It's not uncommon for politicians, particularly would-be mayors like Quinn, to tip-toe around questions of public policy.

But Quinn is unusually circumspect, and has been, by design, for years.

And her dodging is particularly conspicuous because, well, she's the city's second-most powerful official, and has been since 2006, with the result that her positions (and non-positions) are routinely of much greater interest to the press and public than those of the less-powerful Democrats preparing to run against her. 

She's also engaged in a balancing act that's unique among the candidates, thanks to the fact that she's counting on the implicit blessing of Michael Bloomberg and New York's business establishment. Her desire to remain in the mayor's good graces without alienating left-leaning constituencies (including the Democratic Council she leads) can lead her to avoid certain issues altogether, like, for example, a proposal by the Council's progressive caucus to create an inspector general for the NYPD, on which she has had no comment. Or, the governor's push to legalize casino gambling in New York State—an issue on which she has no discernible opinion. (In contrast, her ally Bloomberg seems to delight in publicly ruminating on the topic.)

Some issues can't be avoided, however, and in such circumstances, Quinn is often prone to awkwardly drawn-out pauses during which she works in increments toward inoffensive outcomes, saying as little in public as possible.

Take "living wage."

Lawmakers first introduced a bill to require some recipients of city subsidies to pay their employees at least $10 an hour in 2010. Quinn did not attend a hearing on the bill until November 2011, and did not stake out an actual public position on the matter until that January, when she announced a compromise position on the matter, by which point Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and comptroller John Liu, both of whom are also running for mayor next year, had already come out in favor of a wage mandate.

When, finally, in April, the speaker unveiled the final living wage bill, she characterized the compromise she ultimately hammered out as monumental in scope, when it wasn't, really, at all.

That month, at a press conference hailing an imminent vote on the measure, a living wage supporter hurled what was, to Quinn, an insupportable insult of the mayor, calling him "Pharaoh Bloomberg."

As though to underscore the uncertainty of her support for living wage, Quinn awkwardly demanded an apology from the heckler, before fleeing the scene altogether.

On the controversial issue of teacher evaluations, and whether they should be disclosed to the public, a topic that promises to factor in next year's election, the speaker's positioning has been less than precise.

"My preference is that information is available to parents," she said in April. "That's what I think is the top issue here. If the legislature decides to go further, as I've said, that's something I'm open to considering and don't have an aversion to that."

Other times, Quinn has said nothing at all.

As David Chen reported in the Times, Quinn has been notably silent on the the redevelopment of Chelsea Market, which is both hugely controversial and in her council district. (Stringer, the other Manhattan candidate recently came out in opposition to the existing plan.)

On taxis, and the mayor's plan to create a new fleet of them for the outer boroughs, Quinn has said pretty much nothing, even as Stringer backed Bloomberg's plan and de Blasio backed a medallion-owner lawsuit to halt it.

During a May 31 press conference announcing new measures to protect whistleblower employees of government contractors, Capital asked Quinn whether she agreed with her sometimes-ally in the Council, Lew Fidler, and de Blasio that the mayor had ignored the City Council's jurisdiction in such affairs by repairing to Albany to get approval for the taxi plan instead of getting a so-called "home rule" request from the City Council first.

She avoided the question.

"Look, we've gotten, historically, home rule requests where I didn't think we needed a home rule request," she said. "We've not gotten home rule requests when I thought we needed a home rule request. That is a determination that is made by the state, not by the Council or the mayor."

But does she support the mayor's borough taxi plan, generally speaking?

"You know, I've not taken a position on it," she said.

All in good time.