In one of this year’s more high-profile City Council races, the Democratic primary in the Third District sees Council Speaker Christine Quinn facing a challenge from two first-time candidates, Maria Passannante-Derr and Yetta Kurland.
Taking on a 10-year incumbent — and the Council speaker, at that — is no easy feat. Indeed, Quinn is the city’s second-most powerful politician, not to mention an icon in the gay and lesbian community.
And yet, this is no normal election. Had term limits not been overturned legislatively last year, Quinn would be out of the Council in a few months. In addition, the so-called slush-funds scandal that broke last year further roiled the Council and shook New Yorkers’ faith in government — and left Quinn scrambling to do damage control.
That said, it behooves voters to take a careful look at this race and the three candidates before deciding which one of them is best suited to represent the district, which includes Greenwich Village, the far West Village, Chelsea, Clinton, the Flatiron District and Hudson Square.
Kurland, a civil rights attorney who, like Quinn, is lesbian, has run a commendably energetic campaign, getting out and meeting voters from the Hudson River Park piers to the dog runs. She has some charisma and chutzpah, and is smart and articulate. She says she would stand up to the mayor on important local issues, where Quinn has not.
However, on closer look, what Kurland lacks is experience in government and knowledge about how government works. As seen in the debate The Villager sponsored last month, Kurland frequently lapses into platitudes, when hard details are called for. The expression “Where’s the beef?” comes to mind.
Kurland lacks a basic understanding of how large projects — such as St. Vincent’s Hospital, for example — necessarily go through the public-review process in an iterative manner, with changes to the projects being made along the way at different levels of review. One can’t just say, “Go back to the community” or “Go back to the drawing board,” as Kurland does — because the community already has been involved in these processes. While we appreciate Kurland’s community-minded spirit — these type of issues are simply more complex than she would make them out to be.
In short, Kurland could stand some political seasoning, such as spending several years, at the least, on her local community board, learning how government works, interacting with elected officials when they attend board meetings — basically, learning how things get done in this town. She might have a political future, but she’s not ready yet for the City Council.
Passannante-Derr, on the other hand, does bring experience, having been chairperson of Community Board 2, of which she is still a member. And she has an impressive political pedigree, in that her uncle was the long-serving assemblymember Bill Passannante.
Passannante-Derr has some support among Village merchants, and she has staked out an admirably strong position against the planned three-district Department of Sanitation garage on Spring St. in Hudson Square. A lifelong Villager who has a law practice in the neighborhood, she knows the district’s southern area well.
Yet, Passannante-Derr has run essentially a negative campaign, blasting Quinn far harder than Kurland has. While she is an advocate for quality of life and making sure that the Village’s streets are not too rowdy at night, she hasn’t shown us enough of what she supports and would actually do in the Council. Her campaign has been too focused on attacking Quinn — witnessed by the fact that she even blames Quinn for New York not having same-sex marriage. While we agree with Passannante-Derr on the Spring St. megagarage, for one, she doesn’t offer enough else to win our support.
Quinn, despite her flaws, is simply the best candidate in the race. And, frankly, her strengths and skills as a politician outweigh any criticism she is facing. At the end of the day, overturning term limits was anti-democratic and conflicted, but legal — there was a loophole in the law. As for the slush funds, we unequivocally support a full and thorough investigation.
Quinn is a consummate politician in the best sense, and it’s because she’s earned her stripes. She cut her teeth as a staff member for Tom Duane when he was a city councilmember; then she moved on to head the Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project. She’s held the Third District Council seat since winning a special election 10 years ago to succeed Duane.
Quinn delivers for her district in many ways, very notably on tenant issues. She championed the passage of the Tenant Protection Act, which allows tenants to take their landlords to court for harassment and other abuses.
She was a leading foe of Mayor Bloomberg’s West Side stadium, which was slated for her district. She’s also been there for senior centers, libraries and auxiliary police officers — authorizing bullet-resistant vests for them after the tragic shooting of two Greenwich Village auxiliaries two years ago.
Under Quinn, the district has enjoyed a golden era for parks, with the continued construction of the Hudson River Park, construction of the High Line and the renovation of Abingdon Square, Father Demo Square and Washington Square Park, not to mention the opening of the long-stalled Chelsea Recreation Center.
As the nation’s highest-ranking gay or lesbian elected official at the city level, Quinn is an important political figure. Her feelings on gay marriage are heartfelt, and it’s clearly a cause that means the world to her.
Significantly, as speaker, Quinn can be a strong and well-connected advocate for her district. While it’s not guaranteed Quinn would be re-elected speaker, it’s highly unlikely either Kurland or Passannante-Derr would become speaker were they elected to the Council. For the district simply just to give up the clout of the Council speaker would be a huge loss.
Should Quinn win a third term, however, we want her to keep delivering for her constituents on the issues that matter to them. She must do better, in particular, on the Spring St. Sanitation garage. We know this is a complicated project, but one of those Sanitation districts absolutely must be relocated — and Quinn can, and must, do it.
All things considered, there really is no question who the best candidate in this race is. Quinn is the complete package; she has the experience, the skills and the commitment that the district needs.
The Downtown Express endorses Christine Quinn on Sept. 15.