Christine Quinn Reflects on Progress at Democratic Convention
Polling may indicate an enthusiasm gap among some Democrats this election season, but a listener cannot detect an ounce of doubt in the voice of Christine Quinn. The New York City Council Speaker talked with The Advocate from the national convention in Charlotte, N.C., where she said the energy, especially LGBT attendees, eclipses anything in memory.
“Oh my God, I think the atmosphere here is just the most electric and exciting for LGBT issues I’ve ever seen,” she said Wednesday. She rattled off milestones including the “biggest group of LGBT delegates ever,” a President with “the most significant, substantive, delivered record we’ve ever had,” and a party platform she called “the best our community has ever, ever had.”
One of the most powerful openly gay elected officials in the country, Quinn at times sounded as giddy as any other delegate at the record-breaking convention. More than 530 openly LGBT participants attended this year, a 50% increase since the 2008 convention in Denver, according to the National Stonewall Democrats.
Many other monumental shifts have taken place in the past four years. Last year, New York became the seventh and largest jurisdiction with a marriage equality law, an achievement celebrated Wednesday at the state delegation breakfast. This year, Tammy Baldwin is mounting a competitive bid to become the first openly gay U.S. Senator, and Quinn introduced the Wisconsin congresswoman at a convention luncheon hosted by the Human Rights Campaign and the Victory Fund. First Lady Michelle Obama headlined the event the day after a primetime speech in which she recognized “proud Americans” who can “boldly stand at the altar with who they love.”
Quinn contrasted the landscape to as recently as a decade ago, when the Manhattan political club, Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats, had to plead with its endorsed candidates to use the group’s full name in their campaign literature. The club is also known as GLID.
“In the 90s and the early 2000s, we were asking people, ‘Would you write ‘gay and lesbian?’ Here we have the First Lady of the United States imploring the LGBT delegates and leaders to fan out across the country and help re-elect the President. Just think about how in a very short period of time, things have changed,” she said.
Since 2008, the Speaker’s political profile has also ascended to the point where polls name her the overwhelming early frontrunner in the 2013 mayoral contest, and she leads the crop of potential Democratic candidates in fundraising. Although her candidacy is undeclared, the prospect of the Big Apple’s first openly gay and female mayor seems to be generating buzz in Charlotte. Attendees have tweeted photos of themselves with Quinn captioned “the next mayor of New York City,” and when she appeared in a segment with Chris Matthews this week, he introduced her as “running” for mayor. The Speaker raised her eyebrows in apparent surprise at his bluntness, but she did not deny the claim.
“A boy can hope, I guess,” she said about the MSNBC host. “There’s time for 2013 in 2013. This is about 2012 and the urgency of this election.”
The past four years have included setbacks, most recently the passage of a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages and civil unions in North Carolina, the convention’s host state. Quinn said the development had not dampened the outlook at the convention, calling the mood “over-the-top fun, jubilant, excited.” Amendment 1 passed in May the day before President Obama announced his personal support for marriage equality.
This November, advocates hope to break the long losing streak at the ballot box by winning four state-level initiatives on marriage in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington. The Speaker will co-host a fundraiser for the Maryland campaign next week in New York City featuring Governor Martin O’Malley, who signed legislation in March. She said she also plans to help with the anticipated push for a marriage equality law in Delaware early next year.
“I just want to help take the momentum and leadership we have had in New York and take it nationally,” she said.
The marriage campaign in New York was bipartisan, and Quinn lobbied the legislature alongside figures including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent first elected as a Republican, and former Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman, who is also co-hosting the Maryland fundraiser. Still, she expressed little interest in analyzing their stance against this year’s Republican Party platform, which affirms the Defense of Marriage Act and calls for a federal constitutional amendment banning the marriages of same-sex couples. Quinn married her long-time partner in New York in May.
“I’m not a Republican so I don’t have to reconcile the position of the Republican platform,” she said. “People who are Republicans who are pro-marriage equality, that’s for them to reconcile.”
A Harris Interactive-Logo TV poll last month indicated that if Mitt Romney held the same positions on LGBT issues as President Obama, the Republican nominee would tie the incumbent for support among LGBT voters. Quinn struck a similarly practical tone when presented with that survey’s findings.
“If pigs could fly you’d get pork to go a lot of places without needing trucks, but that’s not Romney’s position,” she said. “That’s just not the case. Romney does not have the president’s position.”
A Catholic-identified lesbian with staunch pro-choice credentials, Quinn maintains a cordial relationship with Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, who is suing the Obama administration over the health care reform law’s contraception mandate and sent a sharply worded letter over the administration's decision not to defend DOMA. Some LGBT advocates criticized the campaign’s decision to accept his offer to close the convention Thursday with a prayer, but Quinn called the inclusion of the religious leader “appropriate.” The cardinal also prayed with Republicans in Tampa.
“It’s not a political statement. It’s a religious statement,” she said.
Quinn said she did not think the Democrats’ positions on marriage equality and abortion would hurt them in key swing states with large Catholic populations, like Ohio and Pennsylvania. Hours after she spoke, Sister Simone Campbell, who received a public rebuke from the Vatican this year, brought delegates to their feet as she said, “This is part of my pro-life stance” in endorsing the health care reform law.
“I think the vast majority of Americans are pro-choice regardless of their religious affiliation,” said Quinn. “I think at the end of the day the vast majority of Americans are pro-equality for their families regardless of their religious affiliation.”
The Speaker sounded energized. As ever.