If you’re running for mayor of New York City, being booed comes with the territory. But that doesn’t mean City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has to like it.
Quinn endured a round of jeers at a mayoral forum Wednesday night after she told the crowd that now was not the right time to pass a council bill requiring employers to give paid sick days.
Though Quinn has enjoyed an early lead in polls and a fundraising advantage, the paid sick days issue has increasingly weighed down her otherwise buoyant campaign.
Democratic rivals for control of City Hall have been jabbing Quinn for weeks over her stance on the bill, and Wednesday’s forum was no exception.
“It’s been three years since we’ve been waiting for a vote,” admonished Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, drawing encouraging cheers from the crowd.
Former city comptroller Bill Thompson, who sat next to Quinn at the forum, half-turned to face her and said, “Speaker Quinn, you need to stop blocking this bill right now and allow it to move forward.” The energy in the room jumped and, as the cheers grew, it was clear that the council speaker was not enjoying it.
The paid sick days issue is energizing a significant portion of the city’s Democratic base. By stalling on the bill, Quinn has forced some to question whether she shares their values.
Many voters may have assumed that voting for the first openly gay and the first woman mayor of New York is a progressive statement in itself. But the paid sick days coalition has deftly challenged that assumption. One half-page ad in the New York Times, signed by author Gloria Steinem and “hundreds of leading women around New York City,” urged Quinn to move the bill forward. The ad subtly told voters that their vote for the first woman mayor of New York would not necessarily equate to a victory for women.
Supporters think that Quinn’s stance on paid sick days will also hurt her standing among Hispanics. The Hispanic vote is considered crucial for victory, and as Quinn adviser Josh Isay told the Wall Street Journal, “The campaign is going to be focused like a laser beam on the Latino vote.”
But now radio ads are reminding voters in Spanish that Quinn has been blocking a vote on the bill for three years. And since a lack of paid sick days hits Hispanic workers especially hard, the message is likely to have some resonance.
It seems that Democratic voters of all stripes are becoming increasingly receptive the bill, which has always enjoyed popular support among city voters. Now a new poll shows the issue has the power to influence primary voters: 46 percent said that Quinn’s stance on paid sick days makes them less likely to support her for mayor.
But if she were to change her mind, Quinn must also worry about distancing herself from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an opponent of mandating paid sick days, whose support for Quinn has given her an early advantage among moderates. Quinn’s relationship with the mayor is already on tentative terms after she voiced support for a council bill that would establish an inspector general to investigate the city’s police department.
In October, the paid sick days bill was amended to exclude all businesses with fewer than five employees, among other revisions. It’s hard to imagine that Quinn isn’t regretting her decision to reject the opportunity to reverse her stance. After all, Quinn herself said of the bill on Wednesday, “It’s not a matter of if, but when.”
Quinn does have a way out of this political bind. She has always said the bill would come forward for a vote once the economy has sufficiently recovered. She hasn’t made clear what criteria she’s using, but economic signs are improving. The city has gained back all the private sector jobs it lost in the recession. Perhaps, before November, Quinn will announce that the economy has indeed bounced back enough to move the bill forward.
Perhaps not, but the issue certainly isn’t going away. One can expect the fallout to intensify.