Christine Quinn Says She’s Not ‘A Raving, Lunatic Bitch All the Time’

FORTUNE's Pattie Sellers interviewing Christine Quinn. (Photo: Rebecca Greenfield for FORTUNE)

FORTUNE’s Pattie Sellers interviewing Christine Quinn. (Photo: Rebecca Greenfield for FORTUNE)

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn may be a tough broad, but she assured Monday night that she doesn’t think it’s necessary to be a “raving lunatic bitch all the time.”

Ms. Quinn, the early frontrunner in the race for mayor, was the keynote speaker at FORTUNE Magazine’s Most Powerful Women event at the Time Warner Center–a gathering of some most accomplished female leaders in the nation.

At one point, Pattie Sellers, senior editor-at-large of the magazine, asked Ms. Quinn about a recent New York Times story that described the famously brash redhead as “controlling,” “temperamental,” “hot-headed,” “pushy,” “bitchy,” “brassy” and “aggressive.” “Are you comfortable with all those words?” Ms. Sellers asked.

“Pretty much,” replied a deadpan Ms. Quinn, winning her loud applause.

In fact, Ms. Quinn touted her no-nonsense temperament as exactly what the city needs as she works to become the city’s first female–and openly gay–mayor.

“Look, I’m tough and you know what? New Yorkers deserve that,” she said. “They work head, they fight it out, they slug it out. And they deserve a mayor or a speaker who’s going to do the same … I’m just not gonna let up until I know I’ve done absolutely everything I can for New Yorkers. Now look, that doesn’t mean you have to be a raving, lunatic bitch all the time.”

Ms. Quinn, whose overwhelming laugh (amplified by the acoustics in the room) seemed to throw the crowd off-guard at first, quickly won them back as spoke about her upbringing in Long Island and her beloved father, drawing “aws”s as she described his role as an “unpaid and unlistened to adviser” at City Hall. Her oft-told story about her grandmother’s escape from the Titanic as a young girl also drew applause and audible gasps. (One woman’s jaw literally dropped.)

Growing up with a sick mother who died of cancer when she was 16, Ms. Quinn said she learned that time could never be wasted. “So you really wanna get it done, right now! Get it done! Get it done! So you’re not like patient at all. Which can be way annoying if you work for me, but way effective in getting things done,” she said.

Ms. Quinn said that she used to worry about how people responded to her brashness, but gave up over-analyzing years ago.

“I’m tough, I’m pushy, I’m really loud,” she said, matter-of-factly. “I used to spend a lot of time thinking about it. But we only have so much brain capacity, so if I’m spending part of my brain thinking about how I’m acting, A, I’m not spending all of my brain doing and B, I’m not actually in that moment,” she said.

“And if you don’t like me, life goes on, you know what I mean? But I hope you do like me,” she said. “Because I think that in addition to being pushy, I’m nice.”

She also shared some advice learned on the job, hammering out budget deals with the mayor and local unions.

“You don’t have to have all the answers all the time. But the best thing to know is what you don’t know,” she said. “Don’t bullshit it if you don’t know it. Just get somebody who does and you can usually then get to a solution.”

Christine Quinn Says She’s Not ‘A Raving, Lunatic Bitch All the Time’