Thursday, June 6, 2013

shady lady / slush puppy

New York City is one of the greatest cities in the world. It's where I live - it's where I come from. I am challenged by it, I struggle through it, it's what makes me what I am, and I love it. I've enjoyed using this blog as a space to examine art, media, culture; museum and gallery reviews, etc., but in response to what I feel is the very real and impending threat of Manhattan, my hometown, becoming an exclusive island of behemoth bank accounts, luxury living glass towers, and corporate franchised chains, I'd like to weigh in on the state of the city and the upcoming Mayoral election.

Only a few years ago, it would have been unthinkable that I would not be supporting a female candidate for the Mayor of New York. Even more unimaginable still is that I'd not be supporting an openly lesbian candidate. I believe that the presence of women and LGBT people in elected positions or holding high office is essential to civil rights, equality, and fair representation. If I'm to be truly interested in equality, however, I need to honestly measure the candidates on their records, or, if you will, the content of their character.

As I watch the emerging media firestorm begin to swirl in anticipation of the upcoming Mayoral election; reading about each candidate's momentum, contributions, and endorsements as well as the media's rehashing of issues already present in most New Yorkers' consciousness: public education, stop and frisk, hospitals, public transportation, affordable housing, neighborhood safety, etc., I try to remain mindful that my immediate personal response to a candidate's personality may not necessarily be founded in a firm foundation of solid information. So I've tried to objectively assess my position on the candidates' records and positions, and it is that starting point from which I base my disapproval of Quinn. 

There has already been quite a bit of noisy and divisive rhetoric coming from the Quinn detractors: "anybody but Quinn," "New York is not for sale," etc. While I may agree with the positions of these detractors, pushing pejorative phrases, or reducing the disapproval of a particular candidate to a placard or soundbite may not be the most useful way to educate a voting public on where a candidate stands on issues. In fact, pushing forward a brash and negative tone might actually alienate some constituents; constituents who might otherwise have agreed with that particular position.

In Christine Quinn, New Yorkers have been dealt a significantly hard to overlook double whammy; she is a woman, and she is openly lesbian. These two facts indicate that she immediately has the support of certain local and national organizations whose primary purpose it is to ensure support for female and LGBT candidates around the country. Similarly, there are large portions of the electorate who will vote for her simply based on the fact that she is either female or lesbian. Early on in Quinn's campaign, as a lesbian, she received endorsements from the HRC, the Victory Fund, Empire State Pride Agenda, and the Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City. As a female candidate, she's been endorsed by EMILY's List, and the Women's Campaign Fund. These endorsements are deceptive. How can the Women's Campaign Fund endorse candidates as disparate as Olympia Snow, Elizabeth Warren, and Christine Quinn? Can they not see the glaring differences between these women? One need only look at the list of Quinn's top campaign contributors to notice that many of them are the same big businesses and corporate conglomerates that Warren would like to see prosecuted for tanking the economy and throwing working class Americans under the bus. Yet these national organizations cannot, or choose not to see it because their primary motivation is to identify and promote the gender, or orientation similarities of candidates. Most national women's political organizations support female candidates, period. And how about the good folks at HRC and the Victory Fund? Do you think they realize that Quinn has repeatedly and consistently turned her back on New York's LGBT community in favor of corporate investors and major developers? Have they considered how she used her short time at the LGBT Anti Violence Project as a personal political springboard for her own career and agenda? No, they seem only to see an openly lesbian Democratic candidate who supports marriage equality, and for their purposes, they need look no further. 

Assuming that a candidate is progressive because she is lesbian is as foolish as assuming that a candidate supports a woman's right to choose simply because she is female. Like many who came before me, I belong to a particular generation of gay people who've had to struggle for any recognition, many of whom may still believe that having an openly gay person in high office trumps any disagreements they may have with his or her record or positions - visibility at any cost. I disagree. In this instance, that cost is too high. That such a large number of LGBT people don't support Quinn is a refreshing indicator that we really have come a long way and are moving toward an environment of equality. We're entering an era where identity politics has permission to take a back seat to the nuts and bolts issues that face all New Yorkers. Considering that what is up for grabs is the most powerful office in New York, I'm less concerned with a candidate's orientation than I am with his or her vindictive nature or plethora of questionable campaign contributors

My local bagel store is now a Verizon Wireless center. My neighborhood discount drug store is a Bank of America. If you are like me, you may have noticed that there is scarcely a spot you can stand on the island of Manhattan where you are not more than three blocks from a Duane Reade. 7-elevens, once a suburban and rural phenomonon to New Yorkers, are now popping up around downtown Manhattan, willy-nilly, like so many pimples on an adolescent's forehead. Of course, Quinn is not single-handedly responsible for these changes, but her history of kowtowing to corporate interests, developers, and tourist revenue would indicate that these sorts of changes would continue unabated. If this homogenizing and strip-mining of neighborhood uniqueness isn't enough to convince you of the kind of catastrophe that would likely result from a Quinn administration, perhaps you might consider how Quinn has stashed City Coucil funds in phantom accounts to later be doled out for her pet projects; aka slush funds; her questionable position on "Stop and Frisk," or the use of her office to advance the interests of real estate developer donors. There is also her position on carriage horses and animal rights to consider, as well as how she is the lone candidate in the field who will not promise an educator as public school chancellor (think Cathie Black). There are no shortage of issues to examine where Christine Quinn's involvement and voting record are not questionable (secrecy, cronyism, slush funds, vindictive withholding or allocating of public funds, overturning term limits, etc.). Perhaps, not least of all, the recent string of hospital closings, most notably Saint Vincent's.

It is plain that Quinn's motivations lie in keeping closely in cahoots with corporate interests, large and powerful real estate developers, and fostering continued record tourist revenue. One only need attempt to drive through midtown to notice that seemingly every third intersection is now a mini-park with lushly-packed planters, lounge chairs, and picnic tables. These mini-parks are lovely urban oases, to be sure, but they can also be frustrating obstacles for commuting New Yorkers. And what of the sudden surfeit of corporate branded Citibikes? Easy affordable bike-shares for working New Yorkers? That has yet to be seen, but once families of tourists start running amok on Manhattan streets atop those 45 lb cycles...  Well, that's a whole other post in itself.

Quinn is a self-proclaimed "fierce advocate for gay rights." She claims paramount concern for issues facing the LGBT community. In that light, I can't be the only one to have noticed the irony of her participating in a protesting march to draw attention to the rise in violence against LGBT people. The march and protest was held in immediate response to the fatal shooting of 32 year old Mark Carson. It is not farfetched to speculate that Carson's life might well have been saved had there still been a hospital (St. Vincent's) just two blocks from the shooting, rather than having to wait for an ambulance and then make the trip across town to Beth Israel Hospital. The march, it should be noted, took place in the shadow of the skeleton of what once was an historic hospital that served the gay community for generations, and was the nerve center of treatment during the early years of the AIDS crisis. 

Truth: eliminating a hospital and emergency center that serviced gay people is violence to gay people.

In another move that reads as shockingly antithetical to the interests of gay and lesbian people, Quinn's strong-arming of City Council to rename the Queensboro Bridge after Ed Koch, in spite of overwhelming public opposition, is indeed questionable. Josh Isay, Quinn's chief strategist has said that "Ed Koch was an incredible leader for the city." Isay, and by default, Quinn seem to have forgotten that Koch (How'm I Doin'?) who was in the closet, ignored the gay community in the early years of AIDS as tens of thousands of gay men died - most probably out of fear of calling attention to his own questionable orientation. In what appears to be pandering for endorsements from beyond the grave, now the Quinn campaign is courting Koch's surviving sister to amplify what would have purportedly been his support for Quinn's candidacy.

In an interesting turn of media attention, presumably in response to a flurry of bad press, especially a very unflattering New York Times piece, Quinn came out publicly as a recovering alcoholic and bulimic. In an interview for the New York Times, she talks about her mother dying of breast cancer, and the sadness and loneliness that ensued after her mother's death, which led her to alcohol. It may read as overly cynical, but one can't help question whether the timing of the decision to go public with this information might have been calculated to make her appear more human in light of press reports that have painted her as a volatile and vindictive political animal. May she have the best of luck and good fortune on her journey in recovery, however, the move to come out at that particular time seems devilishly shady.

Hopefully more unsavory truths about Quinn will be revealed as we get closer to the election, and hopefully, New Yorker's won't be fooled by her political savvy, as they were with Guiliani or with Bloomberg. Suffice it to say, this lady looks to be one nasty piece of work, and having her as Mayor would be an utter catastrophe for New York City.



Jon-Marc McDonald said...

My God Jeff, fantastic! A nuanced, thought out piece void of rhetorical firebombs and histrionics. Great job!

ilene said...

Jeff, we love your thoughtful, incisive writing. You are pursuasive because you make sense and for no other reason. I miss the New York of my youth and that doesn't mean I don't appreciate some of the changes I've experienced since my childhood. NY is one of the greatest cities in the world but if we lose its very essence of being a " melting pot", of being open to those "yearning to be free", we lose so much of what we are. Living in what we're supposed to be is so much richer than what we are becoming. And our writing helped me understand that