New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn lost her bid to become New York’s first openly gay and first female mayor on Tuesday, finishing third in a bruising Democratic primary in which she was assailed on issues unrelated to her sexual orientation.
With pro-LGBT candidate Bill de Blasio, who holds the city’s elected post of Public Advocate, holding a commanding lead in the final weeks of the campaign, Quinn struggled to come in second.
A second place finish could have placed her in an Oct. 1 runoff election against de Blasio if de Blasio failed to reach a 40 percent threshold needed to win the Democratic nomination outright.
But with 98 percent of the voter precincts counted shortly after 1 a.m. Wednesday, Quinn was in third place with 15.5 percent of the vote, trailing former city comptroller William Thompson, who had 26 percent of the vote.
De Blasio had 40.2 percent. However city election board officials said it could take a week before they count absentee and challenged ballots to determine whether de Blasio’s vote count remains at 40 percent or higher.
“I want to congratulate my opponents Bill Thompson and Bill de Blasio on a hard-earned victory,” Politicker.com blog quoted Quinn as saying at her election night gathering at a hotel in Chelsea.
“This was a hard-fought race, we took a lot of knocks, we were up against a lot of odds, but I’m proud of the race we all ran,” Politicker quoted her as saying. “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 that.’”
The New York Times reported that an exit poll showed LGBT voters comprised 9 percent of the Democratic primary electorate on Tuesday. According to the Times, the exit poll showed de Blasio beating Quinn among LGBT voters by a margin of 47 percent to 34 percent. Thompson received 9 percent of the LGBT vote, former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner received 4 percent, and city comptroller John Liu received 3 percent of the LGBT vote, the exit poll showed.
Many political observers view Quinn’s third-place finish as an astonishing turn of events following her status as the frontrunner in the nine-candidate race during the first several months of the campaign. At one point Quinn approached the 40 percent mark in public opinion polls, placing her far ahead of de Blasio both in potential votes and in money raised.
Kenneth Sherrill, a political science professor emeritus at New York’s Hunter College, said a number of factors contributed to Quinn’s stunning decline in the polls and de Blasio’s dramatic rise. Among them, he said, were Quinn and her campaign advisers’ failure to recognize early on the intensity of voter animus toward incumbent Mayor Michael Bloomberg, with whom Quinn was perceived as a strong ally.
Sherrill said the negative impact of Quinn’s perceived association with Bloomberg was compounded by her decision to wage a campaign geared more for a general election than a Democratic primary.
“In the general election you have to appeal to the broader centrist voters,” he said. “In a primary, the best strategy is to appeal to the most ideological and activist voters.”
According to Sherrill, de Blasio skillfully took the latter approach, positioning himself as a progressive champion of New Yorkers struggling to retain their hold on the middle class. He said de Blasio capitalized on Bloomberg’s unpopularity and succeeded in defining Quinn as a Bloomberg crony, stressing Quinn’s key role in 2009 in backing a change in the city charter that allowed Bloomberg to run for a third term.
Sherrill and other political observers say Quinn’s campaign was also hurt badly by an independent expenditure organization formed by labor and animal rights activists called “Anybody But Quinn.” Among other things, the group produced attack ads denouncing Quinn for not supporting legislation to ban horse drawn carriages in New York’s Central Park.
Although Quinn sought to distance herself from some of Bloomberg’s positions, especially the mayor’s support for a “stop and frisk” policy initiated by the city’s police commissioner, which civil rights groups said targeted minority communities, her reluctance to more aggressively oppose the policy subjected her to strong criticism by de Blasio and some of the other candidates.
Sherrill said the litany of problems Quinn encountered in her campaign had “absolutely nothing” to do with her sexual orientation.
“It didn’t matter one bit,” he said of Quinn’s status as an out lesbian. “What mattered was her proximity to the mayor.”
Quinn won the endorsement of the city’s three major daily newspapers – the New York Times, Daily News, and New York Post. She also received the endorsement of Gay City News, the city’s LGBT newspaper, along with endorsements from most of the city’s prominent LGBT leaders.
The national LGBT groups Human Rights Campaign and Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund contributed thousands of dollars to her campaign and dispatched volunteers and field organizers to help in locations throughout the city.
Victory Fund President and CEO Chuck Wolfe issued a statement Tuesday night noting that eight of its 10 endorsed candidates in New York races, including City Council candidates, won their races in the New York primary.
“As you know by now, Council Speaker Christine Quinn was not successful in her bid for the Democratic nomination for mayor,” Wolfe said. “There’s no sugar-coating what an emotional loss this is for her, her many supporters and all of us here at the Victory Fund,” he said.
“I’ve known Chris for a long time,” he added. “She has been a remarkably effective and passionate advocate for LGBT equality and, most importantly, for everyone who calls New York City home.”
Political observers said the LGBT vote appeared to be divided, with many activists supporting de Blasio over Quinn.
Sherrill said that while de Blasio and Quinn emerged as rivals in a heated political campaign both made great strides to normalize what have been viewed as non-traditional families. He noted that de Blasio, who is white, put his black wife and bi-racial son and daughter in the forefront of his campaign.
“Quinn and her wife were around all the time,” Sherrill said. “She talked about her wife. She talked about her in-laws.”
Added Sherrill, “This was a campaign in which families that never were talked about before were being portrayed as normal, everyday, wholesome, all-American real New Yorkers. And it’s not causing a stir. It’s an amazing breakthrough.”
Finishing behind Quinn in the New York primary on Tuesday were New York City Comptroller John Liu, who received 7 percent of the vote and former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), who received 4.9 percent. Four other lesser known candidates received less than 4 percent each.
Joseph J. Lhota, a top aide to GOP former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, won the Republican nomination in Tuesday’s primary. Although Democrats outnumber Republicans in New York City by a 6 to 1 margin, no Democrat has won the city’s mayoralty since 1989 when Democrat David Dinkins became the city’s first black mayor.
Four years later, Dinkins lost big to Giuliani, and Giuliani and Republican-turned-independent Bloomberg have dominated the general elections for mayor ever since that time.
Now, Lhota, who supports same-sex marriage, is viewed as progressive on social issues while, like Bloomberg, he is a strong ally to New York’s business interests. With de Blasio being perceived by many in the business sector as anti-business, some political observers think Lhota has a shot at winning in the November general election.