Quinn out: New York’s only female mayoral candidate succumbs to Bloomberg fatigue

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New York's 109th mayor will not be a woman.

Tuesday evening at the Dream Hotel in Chelsea, Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who was hoping to become New York’s first female and first openly gay mayor, conceded defeat.

"This may not have been the outcome we wanted, but there's a young girl out there who was inspired by the thought of New York's first woman mayor and said to herself, 'You know what, I can do this,'" said the speaker of the New York City Council.

With 96 percent of precincts reporting, Quinn had 15 percent of the Democratic vote, well behind Bill de Blasio, who was pushing 40, and Bill Thompson.

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For anyone keeping score, this means New York City will continue to be one of three major cities in the United States never to have elected a female leader.

The other two are Los Angeles and Philadelphia. The rest of the nation's top ten largest cities by population—Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, San Antonio, Dallas, San Diego and San Jose—reached this goalpost by 1986.

If the exit polls are to be believed, Quinn lost to de Blasio among gay and lesbian voters and among women.

It's safe to assume New York women didn't vote for Quinn for the same reason that New York men didn't vote for Quinn: She was inextricably tied to the Bloomberg administration at a time when Democrats wanted something else. And she ran an uncompelling campaign without a clear message.

And even as the Anthony Weiner surge made it abundantly clear that the electorate was aching for change, she stayed the Rose Garden course. By the time Bill de Blasio took off, on the promise of a clean break from the years of Michael Bloomberg, Quinn had stepped up her efforts to create additional distance between herself and her erstwhile patron. But it was too late.

Quinn never really stressed the gender thing. She trotted out endorsements from Gloria Steinem, Sandra Fluke, Jane Pratt, and Planned Parenthood of New York City’s political action committee. But it was only at the very end that Quinn made an explicit appeal as the female candidate in the race, even with the presence of Weiner giving her such a useful foil.

"She did stress a number of times the fact that she would have been the first female mayor, but she really focused on her experience and her record," Hector Figueroa, president of 32BJ Service Employees International Union, told me at Quinn's election night party on Tuesday night.

When she did make attempts, they were feeble ones.

With Weiner poised to join the race, Quinn took part in a heavily publicized bonding session with Columbia co-eds to share her struggles with bulimia, something that afflicts more women than men. But she didn't explain why any of that mattered, policy-wise.

The Barnard event preceded the release of her campaign memoir, which dealt in detail with Quinn’s struggles as a teenager to care for her mother who was dying from breast cancer (a largely female affliction) and her ponderous deliberations about which wedding dress to buy (another largely female affliction). The book sold poorly.  

In the meantime, her rival de Blasio successfully re-cast progressive bills on which she’d dithered, like paid sick leave and living wage (on which, to be fair, he also dithered) as women’s issues. Gloria Steinem publicly withheld her endorsement of Quinn until she let the Council vote on paid sick leave, which Quinn stopped up in the Council for three years.

Quinn unveiled a women's agenda, which is actually pretty progressive and includes things like citywide paid family leave and free diapers for poor moms. But she waited until August 25 to do it.

"It would seem to me that women would want to have somebody who understands the problems of being a woman," former congresswoman and comptroller Liz Holtzman told me at Quinn's party.

I asked whether she couldn't have made that case more explicitly.

"If you stop to think about it, there was no case that had to be made when Bill de Blasio put his son with the afro in his commercial," said Holtzman. "It spoke for itself. No one had to say 'Oh, spell it out. I have an interracial family so I understand what it means to be a minority in this city because my children and my wife are members of minorities.' He didn't have to spell it out explicitly. Why should you have to spell it out to women?"

"It doesn't matter whether she's a woman or not," Quinn spokesman Mike Morey told me. "People were making a decision based on a whole different direction for this city."