There are many ways for a politician to prove his or her leadership skills. One of them, surely, is to put the common good (and common sense) ahead of the narrow interests of supporters. Especially well-known supporters.
Council Speaker Christine Quinn passed that crucial test recently when she refused to back down on an ill-advised bill despite intense public pressure from high-profile supporters, especially feminist Gloria Steinem.
We’ve been critical of Ms. Quinn in the past because she seemed to take positions based not on principle but on political calculation. She is, of course, one of the leading candidates to succeed Michael Bloomberg as mayor next year. As Speaker of the Council, Ms. Quinn is the second most-powerful elected official in municipal politics, so her performance in the role should offer some insight into the kind of mayor she would be.
Ms. Quinn has the power to bring to the Council floor an ill-advised bill that would force most businesses to provide five days of paid sick leave per year. If the bill were brought to the floor, Ms. Quinn’s colleagues would trip over each other to vote in favor. The Speaker knows that. She also knows that this is not the time to slap the private sector with a job-killing mandate from government. Unemployment in the city increased from 9.7 percent in May to 10 percent in June, a startling and frustrating development.
Clearly, then, it is incumbent on elected officials to find ways to make hiring easier, not harder. In an ideal world, the Council would take Mr. Bloomberg’s lead in trying to ease burdens and regulations that appear to be holding the city back from the roaring recovery we so desperately need.
It goes with saying, however, that city politics is hardly an ideal world, especially with elections looming next year. That’s why Ms. Quinn has used her considerable power as Speaker to prevent the bill from making its way out of committee. She shares the mayor’s belief that however altruistic the motives behind the bill, the end result would be even slower job creation.
Ms. Quinn’s position has earned the ire of some supporters, most notably Ms. Steinem, who has framed the bill as a women’s issue. She says women disproportionately stay home and miss work to look after a sick child, leading to personal catastrophes like the loss of a job or an apartment.
It would be nice if the bill’s supporters had data rather than anecdotes to bolster their argument, but in the end, it doesn’t matter. The mandate could not be more poorly timed. Women (and men) are losing their jobs already; women (and men) are losing their apartments because the city’s private sector is simply not creating jobs. The most recent unemployment figures offer sad testimony as to the health of the city’s economy.
Christine Quinn gets it. She understands that the bill may have good intentions, but she is also aware that good intentions are not enough. The city needs to create jobs, and the sick-leave bill would hinder, rather than help, that process.
Her position shows genuine leadership and political toughness. That’s a good sign.