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Woman in the News

Next Council Speaker in New York Is a Doer and a Trailblazer

Published: January 4, 2006

When the Bloomberg administration pushed its plan to build a football stadium on the West Side of Manhattan in early 2004, the City Council leadership was generally reluctant to confront the mayor. The exception was one lawmaker, Christine C. Quinn, who battled the plan every step of the way, marshalling opposition at a crucial time.

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Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

Christine C. Quinn got a warm reception Tuesday at a center for the elderly in Greenwich Village.

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Profile: Christine C. Quinn (January 4, 2006)

Today, Ms. Quinn is scheduled to be elected as the next speaker of the City Council, which would give her a variety of tools to thwart the initiatives of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg as he pursues what is expected to be an even more ambitious agenda in his second term.

The ascension of Ms. Quinn, 39, not only confronts the mayor with a strong-willed opponent with firm convictions, but also one who is welcomed by the administration as a straightforward adversary unafraid to compromise for the sake of practical politics. In the process, she will be automatically propelled to the top rung of New York City politicians. In the past, speakers have gone on to campaigns for mayor or governor.

But her role as Council speaker is perhaps even more significant on a symbolic level. As an openly gay woman, she could become a trailblazer for other gay politicians.

"This has extraordinary significance in its own right: Chris will be the second most powerful person in the largest city in America," said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "In terms of raw political power, the size of the city budget and the Council's powers, she will become the most powerful openly lesbian or gay official in the country."

In six years on the Council, Christine Callaghan Quinn has proved to be both a formidable opponent and ally of the mayor's.

As chairwoman of the Health Committee, she has sponsored legislation to provide health care benefits to domestic partners and grocery workers over the objections of Mr. Bloomberg. But she also provided support for his ban on smoking in most restaurants and bars.

Yesterday, in her first news conference since emerging as the next speaker, Ms. Quinn, who lives in Chelsea, appeared elated and a bit nervous as reporters and television cameras followed her around a center for the elderly in Greenwich Village.

Though short of specifics, Ms. Quinn pledged to promote "an aggressive legislative agenda" that would revisit the issue of term limits for council members, which she opposes and the mayor supports. Ms. Quinn said that she envisioned her role as that of an equal partner with Mr. Bloomberg, adding that their relationship was "a solid one, a professional one, one where we have mutual respect."

She takes on a post that has played an increasingly central role in running the city in recent years, with the departing speaker, Gifford Miller, often blocking Mr. Bloomberg's initiatives and overriding his vetoes of legislation. Many expect Ms. Quinn to take an even more active role in shaping policies, though perhaps by consulting more with the mayor.

"She's a person who's not afraid to stand up for what she believes in," said George Arzt, who has known Ms. Quinn for more than a decade. Mr. Arzt was press secretary for Mayor Edward I. Koch. "But she tries to sit down and reason with you. If not, she will go her own way."

The Council's agenda for the next four years is expected to include efforts to extend term limits for council members from 8 to 12 years, to develop a waste disposal plan, and to create new zoning rules for a city bursting with economic growth and desperate for new housing.

Ms. Quinn, who lives in a rent-stabilized apartment, said that she would seek to improve the lives of New Yorkers by preserving important social services like senior centers, among other things.

"I want to be a five-borough speaker who targets the problems and needs that New Yorkers face every day," she said. "I want the City Council to be a place that in four years, New Yorkers will look back and say, 'Those people made the challenges we face easier.' "

Ms. Quinn emerged as a vocal and galvanizing detractor of the stadium as soon as the plan was unveiled in March 2004, helping to organize the opposition and lend it legitimacy before others took note of the issue's potency. It was not until November of that year that the Council speaker, Mr. Miller, spoke out against the plan.

And through her membership on the Council, she raised major questions about the planned public financing for the stadium in her district, which includes Greenwich Village, Chelsea, Clinton, parts of SoHo and Murray Hill.

Despite their differences over the stadium project, Ms. Quinn has already started to build on her relationship with Mr. Bloomberg. In recent weeks, as she emerged as the strongest contender for speaker in a crowded field with six other council members, Ms. Quinn was invited to Gracie Mansion for coffee with Mr. Bloomberg, mayoral aides said. She happily obliged.

And on Monday, the mayor called to congratulate Ms. Quinn after she received the support of the powerful Democratic organizations in Queens, the Bronx and Brooklyn, all but ensuring that she would be elected speaker by a majority vote of the council members today.

Mr. Bloomberg, who did not get along with the previous speaker, Mr. Miller, pledged yesterday to work with the Council's new leader.

"I don't agree with her on everything, she doesn't agree with the administration on everything," Mr. Bloomberg said about Ms. Quinn at a news conference at a Brooklyn park. "But we'd be happy to work with whoever the City Council picks."

She entered the political world after meeting Thomas K. Duane, who would be the city's first openly gay council member, while she was running the Housing Justice Campaign for the Association of Neighborhood and Housing Development. She left that job to manage his 1991 campaign.

In the Council, Ms. Quinn's sensitivity has made her popular with other members and lobbyists, who praise her receptiveness and commitment to issues rather than adherence to any particular ideology. During hearings, she has not only teared up with joy but also let out loud belly laughs that make her colleagues chuckle.

But Ms. Quinn's easygoing, gregarious demeanor can also be deceiving. Councilman James S. Oddo of Staten Island, the Republican minority leader, said he has watched with admiration as Ms. Quinn has evolved into a skilled leader with "a laserlike concentration" since they both started out as Council aides in the early 1990's.

"She's lived through so many battles, and that provides you with armor for the battles yet to come," Mr. Oddo said. "She has an institutional memory, and she's seen the best and the worst of the City Council."

Ms. Quinn, a Long Island native, said that her leadership style would be neither liberal nor conservative in the traditional sense, but rather pragmatic. "What I would like to be is effective," she said. "I like to think of myself as someone who is compassionate, and responsive and effective."

Patrick D. Healy contributed reporting for this article.