Ari Ezra Waldman | Christine Quinn | Corey Johnson | New York | News

Christine Quinn, Corey Johnson and Identity Voting in the NYC Primary Election


QuinnChristine Quinn lost in dramatic fashion in yesterday's New York City Democratic primary. She is an out lesbian, with a record of accomplishment. By virtue of her position as City Council Speaker, sometimes those accomplishments involveed working with Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who was almost universally disliked among Democratic primary voters in the City (though certainly not disliked by all Democrats, in general). Ms. Quinn would have been the first woman and first member of the LGBT community to run NYC. She had also been the front runner for 11 of the 12 months preceding the election. Unfortunately, only the last day matters.

How did this happen?

The evidence suggests that this election represents the best and worst of the political side of the gay community. First, the worst. Our collective liberalism can, at times, be self-defeating: the liberal purity coming from the mouths of anti-Quinn LGBTs reminded me of the conservative purity of the Tea Party. Yesterday, we "ate our own," some are saying.

But, did we?

Now, the best. Ms. Quinn would have been a great Democratic nominee and a great mayor. But yesterday's election proved that being a woman or being gay is not enough for voters to gloss over certain policy and personality deficits they have with a candidate. And that's a sign of remarkable progress.

In a world where the LGBT community is under attack, hated, victimized and alone, we have to look to our own. In that case, when one candidate wants to suppress us and the other one is us, identity matters. When you're given a choice between a free trip to Mykonos and a two-night stay in a Moscow prison, you choose Mykonos. Plus, the symbolic value for women and gays of having Ms. Quinn helm this city would have been unmistakable and enormous. But the symbolism was not enough. When the choice is between Maui, Hawaii and Bali, Indonesia, the decision is tougher. When the choice is between a 100-percent pro-LGBT equality candidate and a 100-percent pro-LGBT equality who actually happens to be gay, other things -- their policies on stop-and-frisk, their personalities, their campaign tactics, their plans to raise (or lower) taxes -- become more important.

That's what happened yesterday. The newly minted Democratic nominee for NYC Mayor, Bill De Blasio, is an amiable, pro-equality (and very tall!) man who will be an ally to the LGBT and HIV-positive communities in New York. Ms. Quinn could not capitalize on her identity because, in 2013 in New York City, identity doesn't matter. She needed to do more to prove to voters that she was the best candidate, not just the one that looked like them.

As a community, we have arrived. Ms. Quinn's campaign missed the boat.


According to preliminary data, large numbers of women and gays deserted Ms. Quinn. The New York Times reported on exit polling showing that 39% of women voters went for Mr. De Blasio, with only 16% going for Quinn. White women chose De Blasio over Quinn 36% to 26%. Black women barely even considered voting for the only female candidate, with nearly half voting for De Blasio and only 6% pulling the lever for Quinn. Hispanic women chose De Blasio in slightly less dramatic, but no less significant fashion.

Even more notable, 47% of voters who identified as gay chose Mr. De Blasio, only 34% chose Ms. Quinn.

Corey_johnsonI can add some meat to these numbers. For much of the day, I was out by the LGBT Center encouraging people to vote for my friend -- and ultimate winner -- Corey Johnson. Johnson trounced his opponent, the openly gay Yetta Kurland, by a 2 to 1 margin despite Ms. Kurland's misleading, negative and nasty campaign.

That campaign can tell us a lot about LGBT progress and self-defeatism. Mr. Johnson had a solid, progressive record as a community activist and Chair of Community Board 4 and a remarkable personal narrative that brought nearly 2/3 of voters to his side. Ms. Kurland had little in the way of Corey's experience, so she opted for misleading smear campaigns and negative campaigning. She baselessly and consistently attacked Corey for fabricated connections to real estate developers. She even accused him, and his campaign manager R.J. Jordan, of assaulting someone in a building stairwell. Anyone who knows Corey and R.J. knew that was a lie.

Negative campaigning is always a shame. Negative campaigning within our own community is worse. My idealism and political naivete prefer that the LGBT community show a united front for our greater battles. Ms. Kurland dropped any facade of affinity alliance and attacked Corey like many desperate, losing candidates have in the past. In a way, that's progress. In another very real way, however, it shows how quick some of us are to "eat our own."

That same tension between progress and division was evident in voter views of Ms. Quinn.

"I don't care that she's gay," one gay man told me, referring to Ms. Quinn. "I vote for Corey and for De Blasio. She won't end stop-and-frisk."

"She's in Bloomberg's pocket. She didn't do anything to stop the condos," a lesbian told me. (Real estate development is a big issue in New York City because some argue that middle class families are being priced out.).

"She's not progressive enough for me. She's basically Bloomberg in a dress," an elderly woman snapped. "Corey's great. I don't need to vote for a woman. I need to vote for someone good, someone ... " she paused, "... someone who's gonna be a real liberal Democrat."

I have to say this woman was awesome. Dressed in a fiery red pants suit and sharp and witty like my grandmother was, she captured what I think was the best and worst of our community's voters yesterday.

She displayed an admirable, though troubling ideological purity that can damage winning coalitions. Time and again, voters claimed that Ms. Quinn was insufficiently liberal based on some truth and some wild mischaracterizations. Ms. Quinn's campaign should have framed the debate better, gotten out ahead of her opponents who painted her portrait for the voters. But even if Ms. Quinn were truly not liberal enough, purity is risky. Republicans in Nevada, Indiana, Missouri and Delaware know this well, and it is not beyond the pale that De Blasio's Republican opponent, the Giuliani acolyte and capable administrator Joe Lhota, could paint a picture of De Blasio as a wacky liberal extremist. Don't forget: New York has elected Republicans to Gracie Mansion for 20 years!

But, again, we see the silver lining to our community's apparent ideological purity in the mayoral primary. Identity didn't matter. We have the luxury of demanding more from our candidates because there are no longer any (Democratic) candidates in a place like New York that oppose LGBT equality.

We have to be careful about taking this silver lining too far, however. Identity may not matter to gays and women in New York too much, but the symbol to the rest of the country and the world of having an openly gay woman at the helm of New York City would have been unmistakable and extraordinary. We are still fighting tough battles in purple and red states. We need more LGBT elected officials, public role models and leaders. We cannot be cavalier about that.

For all her qualifications and skills, Ms. Quinn was a victim of a lot of things: ideology, voter dissatisfaction with Bloomberg, her position, her reactive campaign, and so on. But she was also a victim of progress.


Follow me on Twitter: @ariezrawaldman

Ari Ezra Waldman is the Associate Director of the Institute for Information Law and Policy and a professor at New York Law School and is concurrently getting his PhD at Columbia University in New York City. He is a 2002 graduate of Harvard College and a 2005 graduate of Harvard Law School. Ari writes weekly posts on law and various LGBT issues.

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  1. Soooooo it's a sign of progress that we'll have another white guy? Okay.

    Posted by: Kevin | Sep 11, 2013 12:09:44 PM

  2. Not a Quinn fan, but I can't say I warm to de Blasio either. His magically not-lesbian-anymore wife creeps me out and hardly seems helpful.

    Posted by: kennedy | Sep 11, 2013 12:11:17 PM

  3. Ari, as always, an extremely insightful post. I am so disappointed as an outsider (and Quinn contributor) looking in. Here in the South, the symbolic win by Quinn would have been huge, as you mention. But the liberal-eat-liberal politics of NYC got the better of Quinn and her team. They should have seen this coming and pivoted faster. :(

    Posted by: ColinATL | Sep 11, 2013 12:12:25 PM

  4. New Yorkers just voted themselves to higher taxes, lower revenue, more people fleeing the city, and an extension of the nanny state.

    Posted by: Carl | Sep 11, 2013 12:15:55 PM

  5. It's a sign of progress if no one cares about the race or orientation or gender of the candidates.

    I was offended by people telling me I should vote for Quinn because she was a lesbian, and I disagree that she would have made a great mayor. She would have been another rich voter panderer and bully.

    Posted by: SPOT | Sep 11, 2013 12:20:35 PM

  6. I'm all for more people fleeing manhattan. Don't let the tunnel hit you on the way out.

    Posted by: SPOT | Sep 11, 2013 12:22:18 PM

  7. There is an assumption of GLBT candidates that just because a candidate is gay or lesbian, the community will support them. That is a false assumption and at times costs candidates votes. Quinn had a record of working with Bloomberg and was the heir apparent and that alone caused her to lose. GLBT voters are not focused solely on electing GLBT members, the GLBT voter is interested in supporting the best candidate to get the job done, and that is what happened here.

    Posted by: Paul | Sep 11, 2013 12:23:45 PM

  8. Trounced. Ain't that the truth.

    Posted by: M | Sep 11, 2013 12:35:04 PM

  9. I would never vote for someone just because they're gay too. If you want to see ID voting in action in this election, look at who Chinatown and Flushing voted for. lol

    Posted by: marco | Sep 11, 2013 12:35:06 PM

  10. Quinn's numbers plunged after Maureen Dowd's article in the NYT, which quoted DeBlasio's wife (orchestrated by DeBlaiso's campaign) stated that Quinn could not relate to women and issues around children. That gave the "collective ok" to dislike Quinn as "the other." It is unfortunate, but DeBlaiso ran a homophobic campaign. The kicker is that he is married to a woman with a lot of internalized homophobia. So sad. Because of this, DeBlasio does not deserve to be Mayor of NYC.

    Posted by: miko | Sep 11, 2013 12:42:01 PM

  11. "Ms. Quinn would have been a great Democratic nominee and a great mayor." You don't know Christine Quinn very well.

    Posted by: MARCUS BACHMANN | Sep 11, 2013 12:43:38 PM

  12. If Gay rights was an issue in NYC still, I might have voted for Quinn...but the reason why she lost my vote was because she couldn't be trusted. She rolled over for Bloomberg and his 3rd term. If she could go against the will of the people(we voted twice for term limits) for Bloomberg and his favors, who knows what else she would do.

    Posted by: Spike | Sep 11, 2013 12:46:16 PM

  13. I'm not even remotely a New Yorker, so here's my opinion.
    Bill de Blasio won because he's an Ultra Liberal and he knows how to push everybody's buttons and say all the 'right' things like a stereotypical politician. Ultra Liberals are just as extreme and destructive in their own way as Ultra Conservatives.
    Bigotry still stops many people from voting for a female and a lesbian, much less one who is both.
    Good Luck New York City! You may need it!

    Posted by: David From Canada | Sep 11, 2013 12:47:13 PM

  14. Not everyone in NYC thinks that Bloomberg has been such a horrible Mayor. Of course, not perfect, by a long shot. But NYC (and I have lived here for over 26 years) in my opinion has changed for the better. Class warfare and homophobia, is not a good way to run a campaign, DeBlaiso unfortunately, ran just that...disqualifying himself.

    Posted by: miko | Sep 11, 2013 12:49:56 PM

  15. Good thing the primary voters of NYC don't share your opinion that symbolism matters. Instead their opinion is that substance matters more. I could not care less what voters outside of NYC will think about the mayor. They do not have to live in NYC. What I do care about is how the next mayor will govern the city.

    Quinn sealed her fate when she allowed Bloomberg another 4 years. If she was so immovable on overturning term limits, but then somehow, magically, saw the Bloombergian light and changed her mind, then what else is that is immovable in her mind will also change?

    So no, I don't think she would have made a good mayor. What I do think was she would do anything to become mayor. And that is not the kind of person who should govern a city. Or who serves as any kind of good example for the rest of the country.

    Posted by: Greg | Sep 11, 2013 12:50:01 PM

  16. To David from Canada, BRAVO! Right on.

    Posted by: miko | Sep 11, 2013 12:54:01 PM

  17. Very insightful! You hit all the exact reasons for Quinn not even making the runoff! As a gay minority citizen of NYC, Stop and Frisk is something that I cannot stand for in this city. There is overwhelming evidence that shows Stop and Frisk is a waste of tax payer money, and only makes racial divide worse. If Quinn isn't able to see this, then she doesn't deserve to be mayor.

    Posted by: Felix Rivera-Perez | Sep 11, 2013 12:54:26 PM

  18. Ari,

    You've missed sooo much. Black and hispanic women DID vote on identity politics-the black wife AND mother.

    If Clinton runs for the next presidency, Ari, I await for you to naively cry in shock that many women are not actually voting for her!

    As someone who has studied politics I thought you would've known that research shows that women do not trust other women in power and in politics will vote with what their husband or fathers want.

    And doesn't this guys name some pretty spanish/italian?? But not 'white' like Quinn nor anglo saxon.

    So again identity politics voted because they felt they had NOTHING in common with pale red head white Quinn.

    It appears she was only a sure fire hit because she was already known and due to her media presence.

    I feel sorry for her because she played a game that she thought she could win. If she hadn't sided with Bloomberg-her reasoning as that she would not have gotten x, y or z done. I bet she feels she sacrificed a lot but then she is in the party of Liberals and don't ever think it's a sure fire in.

    Posted by: Rowan | Sep 11, 2013 12:55:14 PM

  19. Excellent analysis, as always, Ari. How she lost, with all those endorsements, speaks volumes of the love lost between her and the community.

    Posted by: JeffNYC | Sep 11, 2013 12:55:40 PM

  20. I'm surprised Ari failed to mention Quinn's involvement in overturning term limits for herself, city council and Bloomberg. That was another key reason folks were inclined not to support her or for her soft support until de Blasio became viewed as an alternative.

    Posted by: Albert | Sep 11, 2013 12:58:52 PM

  21. Quinn lost for a variety of reasons, but I think the most important was that she ran a horrible campaign, never able to convey who she was or what she stood for. She allowed everyone else to label and define her, and that's a shame, but it probably also reflects her political upbringing. That's the kind of City Council Speaker she's been. There are so many specific positions she's taken that bother specific constituencies: not supporting a ban on carriage horses in Central Park, supporting the UES waste transfer station, changing her minds on term limits, etc. I guess that I'm not surprised. I voted for Quinn, but in my heart, I think De Blasio won me over. He was able to define himself in such a way that he made all the right moves, long after everyone thought he had no chance. Quinn did the opposite. So I can't say I'm disappointed that she lost.

    Posted by: Doug | Sep 11, 2013 12:59:42 PM

  22. I think you should refrain from commenting on the supposed 'nastiness' of one campaign when you were an active advocate of another. Especially when we've had a few posts advocating said candidate on this site. It's a bit unseemly. Especially coming from you, whom I've always felt was a more detached and just-the-facts writer.

    And you seem to think 'eating our own' applies only to those candidates you oppose. Quit using such loaded language.

    There are plenty of reasons women and gay voters overwhelmingly voted for de Blasio over Quinn. And her being a woman and lesbian had nothing to do it with - these gay and lesbian voters weren't 'eating their own' - they were voting for mayor and sending a message to all candidates gay or straight, male or female: we know and we remember. We're not idiots - we're sophisticated, thoughtful people. Lance Black or Towleroad doesn't dictate who we vote for.

    Voters wanted a change and they didn't want Bloomberg-lite. It's as simple as that.

    Posted by: John | Sep 11, 2013 1:05:44 PM

  23. "Ms. Quinn would have been the ... first member of the LGBT community to run NYC."

    Ed Koch?

    Posted by: babh | Sep 11, 2013 1:10:48 PM

  24. "Democrats for Lhota." Group forming now.

    Posted by: miko | Sep 11, 2013 1:11:45 PM

  25. She deserved the 15% she got. She overturned term limits against the will of the voters who put them into law ( to serve her own purposes as well as Bloomberg's), she did little for her district and the lgbt community and she failed with the smoke and mirrors to try to cover all of her failings. There were better choices in the mayoral race and they were the clear leaders. Thompson is the better of the 2 but DeBlasio is a good choice as well. Time for a nice clean slate in City Hall.

    Posted by: Tom V | Sep 11, 2013 1:13:24 PM

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