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Quinn and Cuomo Jump Straight into the Gutter

The past is prologue for a pair of political operators who were made for each other.

John Tarleton Mar 23

Christine Quinn, once a progressive housing activist, has since made her career by being a tool for powerful men who could help her advance her political fortunes.

Installed as the first woman and openly gay Speaker by party bosses from Queens and Brooklyn, Quinn gained the moniker of “Deputy Mayor for the City Council” for her obsequious support for billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg. It was Quinn who played a key part in shepherding legislation through the Council in 2009 that overturned the results from two voter referendums and lifted mayoral term limits.

She entered the 2013 mayoral race as the clear favorite with the highest name recognition and the largest war chest, only to watch her long-laid plans implode. Voters hadn’t forgotten her role in enabling Bloomberg’s third term, nor had they forgiven her. Running as a quasi-incumbent, Quinn garnered a meager 16% of the vote, finishing a distant third behind Bill de Blasio, whose underdog campaign benefited greatly from the full-throated support of Cynthia Nixon, another out lesbian.

Under New York’s fusion voting law, minor parties can endorse major party candidates and run them on their ballot lines. In 2014, the left-leaning Working Families Party begrudgingly endorsed Andrew Cuomo for re-election as governor, after a bitter intra-party feud over his corporate-friendly economic policies. Once he had the WFP’s ballot line in hand, Cuomo created the similarly named Women’s Equality Party (WEP) to siphon votes for him away from the WFP. He tapped Christine Quinn to be its chief booster. She managed to keep a straight face while insisting the WEP was for real, but never enrolled as a member of the party. Since then, Cuomo has made Quinn a special advisor and installed her as a vice chair of the state Democratic Party, where she is perched today.

With all that as prologue, Quinn pounced on Nixon one day after she announced her candidacy on March 19. Speaking to the Cuomo-friendly New York Post, she said:

Quinn’s comments ensured that Nixon’s lesbianism was prominently featured in all the news headlines just as she was introducing herself to the public.

“Cynthia Nixon was opposed to having a qualified lesbian become mayor of New York City. Now she wants an unqualified lesbian to be the governor of New York. You have to be qualified and have experience. She isn’t qualified to be the governor.”

Those comments and the controversy that followed dominated the day-after coverage of Nixon’s campaign rollout. Quinn later apologized for bringing up Nixon’s sexual orientation.

With Nixon jumping in the fray, it has been rumored Cuomo might ditch his current lieutenant governor, Kathy Hochul (if you haven’t heard of Hochul, you’re not alone), and replace her with Quinn. Viewed in that light, could Quinn’s performance have been auditioning for a spot on the ticket? As for the gaffe itself, it’s fair to wonder if it was an accident.

Her comments ensured that Nixon’s lesbianism was prominently featured in all the news headlines just as she was introducing herself to the public. If that wasn’t dubious enough, Quinn “unqualified” remark may have been dog-whistling to some members of the LGBTQ community who have been wary of Nixon’s unconventional journey to identifying as a lesbian. Welcome to the big leagues, rookie!

Thanks to his ally, the governor was able to remain above the fray. If he did order the attack, his fingerprints are nowhere to be found. It may seem hopelessly retrograde for a Democrat in 2018 to scapegoat an opponent for their sexual orientation. Yet it’s a path Andrew Cuomo is widely thought to have traveled before.

During the 1977 mayoral runoff between Mario Cuomo, Andrew’s father, and Ed Koch, a closeted gay man, an infamous campaign flyer (“Vote for Cuomo, Not the Homo”) began circulating in predominantly Italian sections of Queens and Brooklyn. Andrew Cuomo, then a young aide to his father, has long been rumored to be the one behind the flyer. The slogan appeared again in 1982 when Andrew was managing the elder Cuomo’s successful gubernatorial campaign against Koch. Both Cuomos denied any connection to the smear, but Koch never forgave either of them for the incident.

Andrew Cuomo doesn’t like to be challenged. And if it wasn’t clear before, he is going to come after Nixon hard if she starts to cut into his current 40-point lead in the polls. So what next?

Cuomo and Quinn, the descendants of Italian and Irish immigrants respectively, should go ahead and formally consummate their “tomato-potato” political marriage from hell. Cuomo will have the brawling running mate he may need. And Quinn would be rescued from the political scrap heap and get another chance to be a player.

These two certainly deserve each other. But we deserve better than them.

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John Tarleton is a co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Indypendent.

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Photo: Governor Andrew Cuomo with Christine Quinn in 2016. Credit: Kevin Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo.