The New York Times and a group of power feminists seem to think that Christine Quinn lost her bid to be mayor of New York City because of sexism and homophobia. But I don’t.
I do think gender and sexual identity are always factors in politics, as the attacks on Quinn for her appearance, aggressiveness and voice demonstrate (I would like to note, however, that none of those nasty things were said by Bill DeBlasio.) And Quinn was the only candidate blessed with a well-funded group of electoral nihilists that dedicated itself to attacking her without proposing a candidate who was ethically or professionally better qualified. As Jodi Kantor reports, “a woman seeking power always face[s] perils…the very qualities that had brought her this far — drive, ambition, toughness — could make her unlikable to many.” That is so true. And I would have to admit — perhaps because I share some of these qualities — I found her unlikeable too. She reminded me of every manipulative power femme I have ever known, right down to the hair color. But actually, all those power femmes would have made terrific mayors, and I would have voted for them. Why?
Because they have progressive politics.
Christine Quinn tied herself in knots trying to keep Bloomberg voters while, at the same time, trying to persuade feminists and queers that we would be better off with her — regardless of whether we were rich, middle-class or poor, what we think of what has happened to public education under Bloomberg, or what we think of the city having closed twelve hospitals in twelve years.
Given Quinn’s record, the liberal feminist establishment should not have endorsed her in the first place. Because she was the only woman in the race, and she was plausible, it did. Let this be a lesson, sisters! (Full disclosure: I am a paid-up member of the National Organization for Women.) Gloria Steinem is quoted in the article as saying that DeBlasio “took over the language of gender,” but does not say why. In fact, he had all the time in world to do that because Quinn refused to bring a family leave bill to a vote until Steinem threatened to pull her endorsement. She also blocked the Living Wage bill back in 2011. Kantor writes that “Liz Abzug, daughter of Bella, poured out her frustration about how little had changed in the 36 years since her mother’s unsuccessful run for mayor.” Perhaps that is true, but Chris Quinn is no Bella Abzug!
You must know that Liz. Bella never, ever, would have gotten in the way of legislation that was good for women and workers. In fact, she would have lain down in front of the F train to get it passed.
What I think is interesting here is that this primary was a big fail for electoral identity politics. The less queer people and women feel threatened by the state, the more likely they are to vote for candidates who represent their political interests rather than their bodies. Richard Kim at The Nation says it better than I can here and in response to his colleague Emily Douglas here.
Oh, and by the way? I did vote for a lesbian, kinda sorta. I voted for Chirlane McCray, a former member of the radical feminist Combahee River Collective, and that person she is married to — you know, Bill DeBlasio — because I think he’s kind of a lesbian too. But even if he isn’t a lesbian, he was most definitely the progressive — and the best feminist — in the race.
That’s why Quinn lost.