City Council Speaker Christine Quinn wants to be mayor in two years. The man who holds that job now, Michael Bloomberg, has made it clear that he thinks Ms. Quinn would be a suitable successor.
That’s all very nice, but ambition and endorsements alone do not make a credible candidate. Leadership matters, as two successive mayors have demonstrated. Ms. Quinn is about to get a chance to show whether or not she is a leader.
A majority of the speaker’s colleagues are reviving an idea that deserves to wither away in legislative limbo. They want to pass a law that would require companies working on projects that receive city funds to pay “living wages” to workers. The so-called living wage would be set at $10 an hour with benefits, or $11.50 an hour without benefits.
Just what the city needs in the midst of hard time: a legislative mandate that will drive up the cost of hiring workers. The living wage bill is a bad idea at any time, but when jobs already are hard to come by, it’s almost criminally stupid.
As speaker, Ms. Quinn can ensure that the bill never becomes law simply by never scheduling a vote. There’s an argument to be made that one person should not have that much power in a legislative body, but that’s another argument for another time. As long as the speaker has the power to kill this bill in the interests of the city as a whole, she should.
Whether she will or not remains to be seen, and that will be the test of her credibility as a mayoral candidate. Ms. Quinn is a Democrat who might be expected to court the labor vote in the 2013 mayoral election. Labor is pushing the living wage bill, here in New York and elsewhere. Union leaders claim that the bill will lift workers out of poverty. In fact, of course, the bill will kill private-sector jobs, preventing people from lifting themselves out of poverty.
The bill’s supporters in the Council have chosen to pander to the unions rather than consider the bill’s long-term effects on the city’s economy. In a sense, nobody should be surprised. The Council is where the city’s most parochial politicians report to work. They can be counted on to place special interests ahead of the city’s well-being because, well, because that’s what they do.
Strong leaders, however, can stop the nonsense before it does any damage. Christine Quinn has that chance. She knows, because she has been making the rounds in the business community, that this piece of legislation will be an economic disaster.
So she has a choice: side with her colleagues and the city’s short-sighted unions, or show some leadership by making sure that this nefarious piece of legislation never sees the light of day.
The road to City Hall is filled with tough decisions. Welcome to the mayor’s race, Ms. Quinn.