Defeat arrived unfashionably early to City Council Speaker Christine Quinn's primary-night reception. From the moment President Obama finished his speech on Syria and the first exit polls came on NY1—showing her in third place with 18 percent of the vote—her imminent loss was almost palpable. The crowd laughed derisively when the newscaster noted "these are exit polls, they're only a snapshot," but Quinn press officer Mike Morey was already telling reporters that voters were seeking "a clean break" from Michael Bloomberg. The muted Bruce Springsteen contrasted with the blast of house music that celebrated Scott Stringer's Comptroller party in a bar a few blocks away.
The reception was held in the Dream Hotel, a Meatpacking District den of sleek mediocrity, with dark leather couches, downtempo techno, and long-legged blonde hostesses. The hotel sits across the street from the Fulton Houses projects, block-long edifices where the late poet Gil Scott-Heron spent his adolescence and where a drunk woman stiffed me for a fare when I was a cabdriver in 1983. The Quinn event's room fell halfway between the two esthetically; with bland wood paneling and a bare concrete floor, it felt like the limbo between a corporate conference room and a garage.
If elected, Quinn would have been both the city's first female mayor and its first openly gay mayor. (The "openly" is a qualifier needed to cover the late Ed Koch.) Several older folks at the event, in outfits ranging from nattily foppish to activist-sloppy, looked like they'd lived through both the euphoria of the post-Stonewall era and the fear and tragedy of the no-cure days of the AIDS epidemic. Yet Stuart Appelbaum of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Workers Union, one of Quinn's main labor supporters, praised her for running a campaign based on issues and not on "identity politics."
In the end, though, Quinn's role in pushing through the bill that enabled Bloomberg to run for a third term was likely as debilitating a burden as Anthony Weiner's sexting and John Liu's campaign-finance illegalities. A NY1 exit poll showed only 22 percent of respondents supporting continuing Bloomberg's policies, with 73 percent favoring a new direction for the city; by a 58-38 margin, they said his stop-and-frisk policy was "excessive."
In a Democratic primary, in a city where almost half the people are poor, near-poor, or working-poor, unemployed, underpaid, or underemployed, being inextricably tied to a hubristic billionaire plutocrat was not an asset. Quinn's supporters waved blue-and-white signs touting her endorsement by the New York Times, but that editorial may have damned her as well, by praising her as a probable Bloomberg IV.
As the returns rolled in, the crowd applauded the defeat of staff-groper Vito Lopez in a Brooklyn City Council race, fell silent for Weiner's concession speech, and murmured to celebrate Ritchie Torres's win in a Bronx Council primary. "First gay elected official out of the Bronx," one woman said proudly.
The biggest electricity came when people surged forward, anticipating Quinn's own concession speech, chanting "In With Quinn" as the candidate and her wife emerged. When she said she believed her campaign had made some "young LGBT teen" feel like he wasn't alone in the world, the audience was compelled to shout: "That's right!"