City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s long-awaited memoir is set to come out next month–and Politicker got an early peek.
The 242-page hardcover–conveniently timed for released just as voters are starting to tune in to the mayor’s race–provides a deeply personal account of Ms. Quinn’s childhood growing up on Long Island, including coping with her mother’s losing battle with cancer, her insecurities, and her journey to becoming the city’s second-most powerful elected official, and potentially its first female and openly gay mayor.
But while poignant and touching at times, the book also often feels repetitive and politically calculating.
Ms. Quinn spends thousands of words, for instance, describing every aspect of her nuptials–from the rejected hair styles and Wedding Day SoulCyle outing, to the full text of her and wife Kim Catullo’s vows. Meanwhile, as the New York Times noted, there is precious little space devoted to the political aspects of her time as speaker, with not a single reference to the damaging slush fund scandal, just two pages and little reflection on her decision to overturn term limits to allow Mayor Bloomberg to run for a third term, and no insights whatsoever on her relationship with the current mayor.
She ends the book describing “the gorgeous, sunny March morning” when she formally launched her bid for mayor, sharing highlights from her five-borough “wawk and tawk” tour, including an encounter with a determined heckler who berated her the term limits decision. (In her telling, she conveniently leaves out the topic of the man’s question, describing him simply as demanding–like her.)
“My goal is to hear directly from New Yorkers. What’s going on in their homes? What’s going on in their lives? That way I can make certain that the issues that I’m working on are the ones they’re facing every day,” she explained, adding: “That’s where I get my energy: from the people I talk with. Tell me the problem. We’ll do what we can to help get it fixed. Government can do a lot to help. That’s what we’re here for.”
She made her intentions crystal clear: “I think New York is a remarkable place that has given my family every opportunity one can imagine and more. I want to keep that going and to make it easier for everybody who is out there trying to make their way through life–to better their own circumstances or to build a better future for their children.”
Here are some of the highlights to save you the $24.99 price tag:
On her birth:
“My mother always said that when I was born I looked like a Butterball (as in, one of those round frozen turkeys),” Ms. Quinn recalled of her infancy. When she was brought home from the hospital, “I was so alert that [my mother] half expected me to stick out my pudgy little hand, shake hers, and introduce myself,” she wrote.
Ms. Quinn says she developed bulimia as she was trying to cope with her mother’s death from cancer when she was 16.
“I had to get control over something in my life, and controlling my weight, therefore, became my obsession … When I looked in the mirror, I saw a fat, motherless kid with pimples who couldn’t figure out how to dress or do her hair or do any of the things girls are supposed to know how to do,” she revealed, explaining that purging gave her a false sense of power.
“I was throwing up the pain of my mother’s death, the overwhelm guilt I felt for my role in her sad life, and my sorrow, my mountains of sorrow,” she said. She told herself she would be able to stop whenever she wanted to, but later realized that wasn’t the case.
“Over time, the relief became less and less. But by then you really can’t stop—because it’s such a compulsion. I knew I had a problem because I wanted to stop, but as mush as I tried to, I couldn’t,” she said.
On weekends in high school, Ms. Quinn and her friends would hang out at some of the biggest clubs of the 80s, including the Limelight and Palladium. “If you weren’t driving, you’d drink until you were drunk. It certainly wasn’t sophisticated, but getting smashed didn’t seem out of the ordinary, at least among the people I knew.”
When she went to rehab seeking treatment for her eating disorder, Ms. Quinn said she was warned to also watch her drinking. She realized she often drank for the sake of getting drunk: “I had thought it was normal, but I came to realize it wasn’t.”
Ms. Quinn said she began paying attention to her drinking and never drinking to get drunk. Then, About three years ago, she wrote, “I decided, look, if you’re spending time managing it and thinking so much about controlling it, it’s not a good or healthy thing. So I asked for help, and I got it,” she said, vaguely. The speaker said she hasn’t had a drink since.
“It took me many tears, and some therapy to understand that I did what children typically do in a situation where there’s an ill parent, and especially when the illness is not discussed. You wind up assuming that you’re somehow responsible, even though what’s going on around you is reasonably beyond your control,” she wrote. Nonetheless, she later said, “I really doubt I would have become the first woman—or the first LGBT person—to be elected speaker if I hadn’t been driven by a leftover sense of guilt and responsibility for my mother’s illnesses and her absences.”
On why she never had pets growing up:
Before she was born Ms. Quinn’s older sister, Ellen, had two pets: a dog, Dolly the Collie, and Daisy, the pet duck.
“Dolly the Collie and Daisy the Duck would go around the neighborhood together, and sometimes Daisy would ride on Dolly’s back. When Ellen was out paying with the neighborhood kids, Dolly would go looking for her and herd the children into a pack as if they were sheep. Then Daisy would waddle in to join them.”
Unfortunately, one day some of the kids resisted, and she nipped them. “This was not good. Then at some point a raccoon ate Daisy the Duck. And soon afterward Dolly got sick and had to be put down. So none of it ended well….”
On torturing cheerleaders and socking a guy while dressed as a giant rooster:
At Trinity College, Ms. Quinn famously played the role of Bantam, the school’s fighting rooster mascot, dressed in a giant, feathery costume.
“My role as the Bantam was to excite the crowd, torture the cheerleaders by hitting them with their pom-poms, and get the crowd to do chants.” But then came the fateful day when she was attacked by kids from arch-rival Wesleyan.
“Some guys came down from the stands and started pouring beer all over me, pulling on me beak, and tugging on me,” she recalled, But the famously feisty Ms. Quinn didn’t take the feather-ruffling for long.
“I couldn’t get them to stop, so I had to haul around and clock one of the guys. And when I screamed at him, he said, ‘Oh, I didn’t know you were a girl. Sorry.’”
On getting together with her first girlfriend:
Sorry, she told her first flame early in their seven-year relationship. “’I'm not going to be gay.”
On former Mayor Rudy Giuliani:
“Working with Mayor Bloomberg and his office was a pleasure after Rudy Giuliani,” said Ms. Quinn of her experience working with the former mayor. She described once being hastily thrown out of an unnamed commissioner’s office because a deputy commissioner was heading their way. She and her chief of staff were forced to escape through the building’s loading dock–“Literally, we climbed over boxes,” she recalled–because the meeting hadn’t been approved by City Hall.
“In a job like mine getting things done is essential, even if it means compromising on an issue to move things forward. No one elected me just to say no. Deadlock is not a formula for governing,” she said.
On overturning term limits:
“The choice wasn’t at all clear, and I struggled to balance what was best for him, for the city, for the City Council, and for me personally,” she wrote.
Ms. Quinn shared several pieces of sage advice for would-be political organizers. First, invite more people than you expect to come to an event. Then, set up fewer chairs than people you’re expecting so the room will look more crowded. “You don’t want people who’ve given their precious time feeling like they’re the only people who care about something,” she explained.
And if you want press coverage, hold your event on a Sunday–typically a slower news day–and have someone dress up in a silly costume. Coverage nearly guaranteed.
“You just have to let yourself feel the bad stuff and cry your eyes out,” she advised, “then fix your makeup and get on with it.”