The New York Daily News has reported that the FBI is investigating a possible extortion scheme hatched by an animal rights group to derail City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s campaign last year to become New York City’s first openly gay mayor.
In a series of articles beginning April 25, the Daily News has cited unnamed sources claiming that New Yorkers for Clean, Livable, and Safe Streets (NYCLASS) is under investigation for allegedly making a threat to destroy Quinn’s mayoral campaign if she did not agree to a proposed ban on horse drawn carriages in Central Park and nearby streets.
“Sources said the FBI appears to be evaluating the nature of the threat and whether it went beyond the normal rough-and-tumble of politics and drifted into extortion,” the News reported.
Quinn, who held a wide lead in the early months of the campaign, finished third in the September 2013 Democratic primary with 15.5 percent of the vote.
Bill de Blasio, who held the elected position of Public Advocate, won the primary with 40.4 percent of the vote in a nine-candidate race. He went on to win the general election in November and was sworn in as mayor in January.
A spokesperson for the FBI’s New York Field Office declined to comment when asked by the Washington Blade if the FBI was investigating NYCLASS and others working with the group to oppose Quinn’s candidacy.
“NYCLASS knows nothing about any investigation, which makes sense because NYCLASS has done nothing wrong,” the group’s spokesperson, John Eddy, told the Blade.
In a development that most political observers say hurt Quinn’s campaign, she declined to support the ban on horse drawn carriages, saying she didn’t believe the horses were being mistreated. Quinn and others supporting the horse and carriage industry noted that horse carriages have been a New York tradition for more than 150 years and are an important tourist attraction.
NYCLASS officials have said forcing horses to travel along streets with cars and buses is a danger to the animals and has led to the injury and death of horses over the years. They have called on the city to replace the horses with vintage, 1920s era cars powered by electric engines.
According to the Daily News, NYCLASS retaliated against Quinn after it reportedly persuaded de Blasio to support the ban on horse carriages. At that point going forward it helped to fund a relentless campaign of negative commercials, robo-calls and mailings that “began the downfall” of Quinn’s campaign, the Daily News and other news outlets have reported.
In a follow-up story on April 27, the Daily News again cited unnamed sources as saying the FBI was looking into a $225,000 contribution to NYCLASS to help fund its anti-Quinn attack ads by “a union run by de Blasio’s cousin, John Wilhelm, and a key de Blasio fund-raiser, lawyer Jay Eisenhoffer.”
Known as the “Anyone but Quinn” campaign, the effort spent hundreds of thousands of dollars attacking Quinn, with her poll numbers taking a nose dive within two months of the start of the campaign.
“Agents spoke with Quinn and at least four others, focusing on the funding of the anti-Quinn effort and why her chief rival, de Blasio, reversed his position and supported the [horse carriage] ban,” the Daily News reported.
Kenneth Sherrill, a political science professor emeritus at New York’s Hunter College, told the Blade that although the attack ads from NYCLASS were not the sole reason for Quinn’s defeat, they played a significant role in her drop in the polls.
Sherrill attributed Quinn’s perceived closeness to then incumbent Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was highly unpopular among voters, as the main reason for her defeat. Sherrill said Quinn’s status as an out lesbian had “absolutely nothing” to do with her loss at the polls.
A New York Times exit poll showed that a majority of LGBT voters backed de Blasio over Quinn because they believed both were equally good on LGBT issues and believed de Blasio was better on non-LGBT issues.
The Blade couldn’t immediately reach Quinn or a spokesperson for comment. The Daily News reported that a Quinn spokesperson declined to comment when reached on April 26.
A public opinion poll conducted in January showed more than 60 percent of New York City voters support retaining horse drawn carriages. All three of the city’s major daily newspapers, including the New York Times, also favor keeping horse carriages.