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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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Quinn’s Quest: Suburbia To Gracie Mansion

Lawrence Quinn, a former Glen Cove resident and the father of New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, is an Irish-American man of a certain age. So I can only imagine the look on his face when playwright Eve Ensler read aloud graphic passages of her best-known work, The Vagina Monologues, at his daughter’s 1999 City Council swearing-in ceremony.

When Ensler was finished, Mr. Quinn, who was sitting onstage during Ensler’s performance, looked at his daughter and said, “You couldn’t just have had the Pledge of Allegiance?”

Nope, that’s not the way Councilwoman Quinn rolls. A person’s sexual preference(s) are the prism through which his youngest daughter sees almost everything, if her just-published memoir, With Patience and Fortitude (William Morrow, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers), is a representative assessment of her worldview. Exhibit A: the emcee of the aforementioned 1999 event was a person identifying as transgender.

Christine Quinn is one of the top contenders in the Sept. 10 New York City Democratic mayoral primary, so some of her book’s passages have already made headlines, such as Quinn’s admissions that she once combated bulimia and has also needed to curb her intake of alcoholic beverages.  

One of the running themes throughout Quinn’s autobiography, however, is the impact her mother’s death, in 1982, had on the then-16-year-old Quinn. The late Mary Quinn battled breast cancer for years before dying, leaving a husband and two daughters: Christine, and her older sister, Ellen. The family lived at the time on Libby Drive in Glen Cove. The future City Council Speaker graduated from Old Westbury School of the Holy Child, where she was the class president, before moving on to Trinity College in Hartford, Conn.

Quinn’s moxie and political activism came into view during her years at Trinity, from which she graduated in 1988, after majoring in urban studies and education. She even spent one year as the institution’s mascot, dressing up as a Bantam at athletic events, and worked periodically for Connecticut’s Public Interest Research Group.

Her long, slow climb in the New York City political world began in 1991 as campaign manager, and then chief of staff, for City Councilman Tom Duane. His district covered Manhattan’s West Village and Chelsea neighborhoods. After Councilman Duane, an openly gay man who volunteered he was HIV-positive, won a state Senate seat in 1998, Quinn prevailed the next year in a crowded race to succeed him as a City Council Member. She has represented that district for 14-plus years, in part because Quinn, the City Council Speaker since 2006, convinced the City Council to set aside the voter-approved term limits law, which held that city lawmakers should only serve two terms. The maneuver allowed her, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, to seek four-year terms in 2009. They won while paying a political price. The mayor spent about $100 million of his own fortune but won re-election by only a few percentage points, and Quinn is being repeatedly asked in 2013 to defend her term-limits decision.

As for her personal life, the state’s marriage equality law allowed Quinn and her longtime partner, attorney Kim Catullo, to marry one another in 2012, and Lawrence Quinn was there to walk his daughter down the aisle. To Mr. Quinn’s relief, I am sure, Eve Ensler was not asked to provide entertainment at the reception.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: MFBARRY@optonline.net