Speaker Quinn and DSpar

Last night, Speaker of the City Council Christine Quinn stopped by Barnard to campaign for mayor discuss the problems facing women and those facing the city. Bwog’s City Hall bureau chief Peter Sterne reports.

The Diana Event Oval auditorium was packed with Barnard (and a few Columbia) students hoping to hear from Quinn, who is the first woman and first openly gay Speaker, as well as the frontrunner in the race to succeed Mayor Bloomberg.

Quinn began her talk by praising Barnard—”a place where women are encouraged to take risks”—and noting that more people working on her campaign came from Barnard than any other college. Later, she explained that she is a fan of single-sex education in general, and Barnard in particular. A plurality of people working on her mayoral campaign, she added, are Barnard graduates. Later, DSpar asked her a question submitted by a member of the audience—”a man, judging by the sloppy signature”—about whether single-sex education was worth it. Quinn, who attended an all-girls high school and a co-ed college, insisted it was because it provides “less distraction.” Single-sex schools, she added, have a “much better impact in creating leaders than co-ed schools.”

Bwog expected Quinn to deliver a stump speech and was surprised that she instead talked about how the young women audience should seek to break out of rigid gender roles. She explained that breaking free of gender expectations saved her grandmother, who was a passenger on the Titanic and only survived because “when the other girls got down to pray, she started running.” She also encouraged the audience not to trust “naysayers,” including their own “internal naysayer voice.” She recounted her run for City Council Speaker, when “naysayers” told her that she could never win since she was a gay woman who represented the West Village. Of course, she ignored those concerns and proved them wrong. The lesson for young women? “Every time they tell you, you can’t do something, it’s not because you can’t do it. It’s because they’re afraid they can’t.”

Quinn also alluded to her mayoral run, at one point reminding the audience that the Democratic mayoral primary will be held on September 10th. During her interview with DSpar, she pointed out some of her specific policy achievements, such as increasing affordable housing and getting tax credits for tech companies based in the city. DSpar was, to say the least, a sympathetic interlocutor. Once the floor was opened to questions from the audience, Quinn received some pushback.

Austin Heyroth, CC ’15 and the Media Director for CU Dems, passionately asked Quinn how he could support “stop and frisk” given its discrimination against black and Latino men. Quinn gave her standard answer, explaining that she wanted to leave “stop, question, and frisk” (note the language change) as a “tool” for police officers to use, but opposed unnecessary and excessive stops. She added that stops have gone down since Commissioner Ray Kelly implemented better training, and alluded to her plans to create an independent NYPD Inspector General. In other words, she dodged the question.

Another tough question came from Irin Carmon, Salon’s insightful politics and culture reporter, who asked about her opposition to paid sick leave. (Some background: for the past three years, the City Council has considered a bill that would mandate all employers in the city provide their employees with paid sick days. A majority of the Council supports the bill, but Mayor Bloomberg opposes it, and Quinn has used her power as Speaker to prevent the Council from bringing it up for a vote.) Carmon noted that many feminists, including Gloria Steinem, consider paid sick leave a feminist issue and have refused to support Quinn since she opposes it. “I believe you consider yourself a feminist,” Carmon told Quinn, so what did she think about feminists being upset with her for opposing the bill?

In response, Quinn said she was “just going to punt on that [question]” because negotiations over the bill were ongoing. At that exact moment, the Times reported that she had compromised and decided to allow a watered-down version of the bill to be voted on by the Council. (The next morning, she held a press conference about the bill and received praise for making New York one of the first cities to mandate paid sick leave. She’s a good politician.)

The final question of the night came from DSpar, who asked Quinn what she would do if she had a “magic wand” and could change one thing about government. “I would make Congress work cooperatively,” she said, to huge applause. And then it was over. Barnard students filed out of the auditorium, considering the advice they had just received from one of the most successful women in New York City.

Photo via Barnard College/Askiya Khaki