Since she was elected Speaker in 2006, Ms. Quinn has quite literally set the agenda for the New York City Council. She presides over meetings; proposed legislation is submitted through her office, and she oversees the Council’s discretionary funds. It’s a powerful role and a challenging one.
Councilman James Oddo, who as leader of the small Republican minority is part of the Council leadership with Ms. Quinn, said the members of the legislative body are difficult to manage, particularly as a mayoral election approaches.
“If council member X does something ridiculous, and we’ve seen ample examples of that, it gets put on your doorstep, particularly when you’re running or perceived to be running for higher office,” Mr. Oddo explained. “You’ve got 50 other people who are ambitious and have their own agendas and their own plans for the future. And you have to try to corral that.”
Mr. Oddo describes himself as an “unabashed fan” of Ms. Quinn. Though they “don’t agree on everything,” he said he admires her work ethic, preparation, intellect and humor, and the “love” she has for politics and policy.
Mr. Oddo characterized Ms. Quinn’s approach to government as involving long hours and a mastery of minutiae. “I respect her sort of obsessive-compulsive approach to city government,” said the councilman. “There’ll be times when I’d look, I’d skew a glance at her and give her the ‘What the F’ look. Like, how did you remember that?”
Still, according to some accounts, the tight control she has exerted over the body may have caused a buildup of pressure that’s set to explode just as she’s poised to make a run for mayor.
Multiple council members declined to speak for this story, but we talked with a council member and a council staffer who agreed to discuss Ms. Quinn as long as we didn’t identify them.
The staffer said Ms. Quinn has ruled by fear, withholding “member items” (the discretionary funding given to the pet projects of council members) from those who have crossed her. They also accused her of stalling bills and legislation she doesn’t approve of, specifically the Paid Sick Days Act, which was proposed in 2009 but has since languished without a vote in the Council despite being sponsored by 37 members.
“Because she holds the purse strings,” the staffer said, “the people that speak out, the people that challenge the majority thinking, those people typically wind up with less.”
The council member we spoke with agreed that Ms. Quinn has made members “fear” her and speculated this was why we were having trouble finding more of them willing to talk on record.
“Can you like someone and fear them at the same time?” the council member asked. We wondered whether Ms. Quinn, who first joined the Council in 1999, had managed to do both.
“No,” the council member said. “I don’t know if any of them like her.”
Indeed, the staffer we spoke with warned that some of Ms. Quinn’s dissenters who are tired of being “bullied” may see her mayoral bid as making her vulnerable.
“Certain members have talked amongst themselves about how they don’t use their power and how that may need to change in the lead-up to the mayoral,” the staffer said ominously.
Nonetheless, the source conceded Ms. Quinn might be able to ward off “retribution” by promising “something in return, should she be elected.”
The council member we spoke with was more doubtful, however. “As she runs next year, I’d imagine she’s going to try to grow her support,” they said. “I don’t know if it’s by making nice with those colleagues. I don’t know if that’s what she’s capable of doing.”
A spokesman for Ms. Quinn dismissed concerns of dissent in the Council.
“The Council has always been a place for lively debates over interesting ideas among members who represent diverse communities,” the spokesman said. “We fully expect to see vigorous debates next year as we do every year.”