Christine Quinn Is Out of Secrets After Revealing Bulimia and Alcohol Struggles

Christine Quinn being interviewed by Barnard President Debora Spar. (Photo: Jill Colvin)

Christine Quinn being interviewed by Barnard President Debora Spar. (Photo: Jill Colvin)

After disclosing in the New York Time today that she had suffered with bulimia and alcoholism, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn continued to discuss her personal struggles earlier this afternoon, but insisted to a room full of college students that the revelations were intended to help other people—not her mayoral campaign.

Ms. Quinn’s event with a select group of students at the all-women’s Barnard College coincided with the printing of the story, in which Ms. Quinn talked about developing bulimia as a teenager struggling with her mother’s death, and her overuse of alcohol in the years after.

She will go into further detail in her upcoming memoir, “With Patience and Fortitude,” which will be released early next month.

During a long and occasionally emotional interview with Barnard President Debora Spar, followed by question-and-answer sessions with students and then reporters, Ms. Quinn said that she made the decision to come clean after the media obsession surrounding her wedding last year. It was then, she said, when she realized the impact that sharing her story could have on others.

“For better or worse, when you’re running for mayor, there’s a little bit of a spotlight on you,” she explained. “I really felt like I had the opportunity to use this spotlight to share more of myself and hopefully help other people in ways that I didn’t realize,” she said.

In addition, Ms. Quinn said she hoped to relieve some of the burden of carrying around a secret for so long. “I really believe when you come out of hiding, in whatever way you’re hiding, you get to go out into the sunlight,” she said.

Still, Ms. Quinn faced pointed questions from reporters about her motivation for making the revelations public  just as the campaign season shifts into high gear, despite years of serving as the city’s second-most powerful elected official. Some have interpreted the move as part of a larger effort to soften a brash image and broaden her appeal to women voters–but Ms. Quinn insisted there was no political calculus behind her move.

“This discussion, this book, it’s not about softening my image,” she insisting, questioning whether admitting she was bulimic or an alcoholic would really be the best solution anyway. Instead, she said she is proud of her reputation as loud and pushy and has no intentions of changing her ways.

“There’s not a lot of conversation going on in my world about softening my image,” she said. “I’m pretty much who I am.”

Regardless of its motivation, the discussion provided an arguably unprecedented look into a mayor candidate’s private life, with audience members encouraged to ask deeply personal questions about Ms. Quinn’s struggles with her weight, the pressures of perfection, and her relationships with her mom and dad.

Still, after what some said felt like a talk show confession, many questions remained unanswered.

Had she ever relapsed?

“It’s been a journey,” she said when asked the question. “It’s something I feel very good about where I am at right now. But like any journey, you’re not going to do it perfectly.”

Does she attend a program like Alcoholics Anonymous, or has she handled her alcoholism on her own?

“The second ‘A’ in Alcoholics Anonymous is ‘anonymous,’ and so I’m going to honor the tradition of that program and I’m not going to answer one way or another about membership in that program,” said Ms. Quinn. “But I want to be clear, with both of those challenges, I’ve been able to overcome them because I’ve asked for help.”

Ms. Quinn clarified that she does, indeed, consider herself an alcoholic, which runs in her family–but said that limiting her intake was a gradual process. When she  left a stint in rehab for her eating disorder, she said, she was warned to watch out for her drinking. After years of enjoying the occasional glass of wine, she said she decided a little over three years ago to cut out alcohol entirely, as part of a larger effort to be healthier.

Ms. Quinn also revealed that she is “terrified” about the book and its reception, but said that, after “coming out” as a lesbian, a bulimic and an alcoholic, she’s done with revelations.

“That’s all you’re getting’! That’s all there is,” she bellowed with a laugh. “That’s a full lid, as they say!”