Outside Group Invests in Effort to Block Quinn’s Mayoral Campaign

The imagery conjures up “The Wizard of Oz”: as smoke fills the screen, the head of a frowning Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker, materializes.

7 April 2013
By David Chen

The imagery conjures up “The Wizard of Oz”: as smoke fills the screen, the head of a frowning Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker, materializes.

“She wants you to think that she’s a progressive, but on the issues New Yorkers care most about, she is always on the wrong side,” a male narrator intones. “All that’s clear when the smoke lifts is her political ambition.”

As a succession of blurbs from newspaper articles suggest that she has waffled on key issues, the narrator concludes, “When Christine Quinn doesn’t support our values, how can you support her for mayor?”

So goes a commercial attacking Ms. Quinn that, starting on Monday, is scheduled to appear on cable television stations like MSNBC and Bravo for three weeks. The 30-second commercial, the first of the mayoral race, comes quite early in the primary season, underscoring the competitive nature of the contest to succeed Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

The commercial is not the work of one of Ms. Quinn’s opponents for the Democratic nomination, but of a coalition of left-leaning labor unions and Democratic activists who say they are not backing anyone in particular.

The organizers have pledged more than $1 million to the campaign and are spending $250,000 for the initial television advertising, said Scott Levenson, president of the Advance Group, which produced the spot. Another commercial is to be released this week, followed by several mailers and radio ads.

Ms. Quinn, who has been a key ally of Mr. Bloomberg, is generally viewed as the front-runner, thanks to a high-profile position and a high-octane style that has brought her admiration as well as enmity. With all the candidates vowing to spend no more than $6.7 million in the primary to qualify for the public matching funds, outside money promises to play a major role in a hotly contested New York City race for the first time since the United States Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case.

The coalition opposing Ms. Quinn is called NYC Is Not for Sale 2013 and appears to be a successor to a group that actively opposed Mr. Bloomberg’s 2009 re-election bid. It also includes an animal-rights group, NYClass, that has long fought with Ms. Quinn over horse-drawn carriages and other issues. But the coalition also includes Democrats who had previously been major donors to Ms. Quinn.

When informed of the commercial, however, Mike Morey, a campaign spokesman for Ms. Quinn, pinned the effort on one of her opponents, the public advocate, Bill de Blasio, who has ties to some of the coalition members and is viewed as a strong supporter of animal rights.

“This ad is paid for by a special-interest group, with strong connections to Bill de Blasio, working to circumvent the New York City campaign finance system,” Mr. Morey said. “If Bill de Blasio is the progressive he claims to be, then he should oppose this effort to undermine the most progressive campaign finance system in the country.”

A de Blasio campaign spokesman, Dan Levitan, said the campaign had not known of the spot until a reporter asked about it late Sunday, and he commented: “Nothing undermined our democratic system more than when Speaker Quinn overturned term limits and let Mayor Bloomberg spend $100 million buying four more years.”

In interviews, members of the group behind the ad said they were profoundly disappointed that Ms. Quinn had evolved from progressive activist to business-friendly centrist.

And though their preferences differ for now — one is leaning toward John C. Liu, the city comptroller, and others are likely to back either Mr. de Blasio or William C. Thompson Jr., a former comptroller — they all agreed on the need to highlight what they regard as Ms. Quinn’s faults.

These include her role in helping Mr. Bloomberg upend term limits; her stances on causes dear to progressives, like the so-called living wage and paid sick leave legislation; and her volatile temperament.

“All of us felt a kind of betrayal, so we all decided it would be A.B.Q. — anybody but Quinn,” said Arthur Cheliotes, president of Communications Workers of America Local 1180, which represents city workers.

Wendy K. Neu, whose family owns a recycling, shipping and real estate firm, and has donated more than $45,000 to Ms. Quinn since 2007, said: “She’s someone who doesn’t act on principle. She does whatever is politically expedient.”

Ms. Quinn has been on the defensive in recent weeks. She has been the target of attacks at mayoral forums, and her methods in distributing money to Council members — which some say has been vindictive at times — has come under renewed scrutiny in the wake of last week’s corruption arrests.


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