Christine Quinn’s Biggest Opponent?

David Dinkins, or at least his political ghost.  As Christine Quinn attempts to become the first Democratic mayor in 20 years, the political shadow of the last Democratic mayor lurks as a danger zone.

In broad stroke, David Dinkins and Christine Quinn have some meaningful similarities:  adept career politicians, successful one step below the mayor’s office, from Manhattan and powerful symbols of the political progress of their respective communities.  Dinkins, a smart, steady politician and decent person, was ultimately overwhelmed by the City’s challenges and perpetually played political defense.  “Dave, Do Something” still echoes hauntingly.

The political challenges in the paid sick leave bill now in the City Council are a major test for Speaker Quinn.  While very different from the murder epidemic and violent crime that faced Mayor Dinkins, it contains a similar political challenge:  How to be in charge and be perceived as in charge?  Speaker Quinn is being strongly pushed in opposite directions by  significant constituencies.   On one side are the Democratic and Working Families base, a veto-proof group of council members and Manhattan progressives, including what Crain’s Insider described as a group of “powerful, well-heeled Democratic women”. On the other side are Mayor Bloomberg and the business community.  Speaker Quinn wants both sides to support her, and adding a business-friendly element to her campaign may help separate her from the rest of the field and be significant in a Quinn mayoralty.  Doing so at the cost of alienating the Democratic and Working Families base is a sure path to defeat, however.

So far, the Speaker has announced that the council will hold a hearing on the bill, but that she will not allow the council to vote on the bill.  Legislative machinations occur in every legislative body, and engaging in them is certainly part of legislative leadership.  A little legislative rope-a-dope is fine with voters, so long as the leader ultimately comes off the ropes and takes command.  Sending the bill to a dead-end hearing may be an effective short term tactic, but it is not likely to be an effective long term strategy.

How Speaker Quinn navigates these challenges, and particularly whether she is seen as in command, whatever the outcome, will meaningfully affect her 2013 prospects.  If the Christine Quinn narrative starts to include “Dinkins 2.0,” it will be a short race for her.

˜  John Kenny