What’s Behind Christine Quinn’s Negative Turn?

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn delivering her speech Monday. (Photo: Twitter/Quinn4NY)

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn delivering her speech Monday. (Photo: Twitter/Quinn4NY)

Christine Quinn’s speech on Monday morning marked a turning point for the City Council Speaker as she struggles to maintain her status as the mayoral race’s decisive front-runner in the face of lagging poll numbers and former Congressman Anthony Weiner’s headline-hogging jump into the race.

In the address, Ms. Quinn, who up until now has tried to keep an above-the-fray approach, first focused on touting her Council record but soon switched into full attack mode, taking shots at her opponents and making the most overt comparison-based case yet of any candidate to voters about why she should be the city’s next mayor.

But the move left several of Ms. Quinn’s rivals and other observers scratching their heads.

“The timing and the substance of the speech today confuse me. Front-runners generally don’t do speeches hyped up as them blasting their opponents,” said one Democratic consultant unaffiliated with any of the mayoral campaigns. “It makes me think that Quinn’s internal polling confirms what the public polling has found: the pack is catching up to her and now she has to try and define them negatively where before she could coast.”

Several rival campaign sources similarly speculated that Ms. Quinn’s team may have been spooked by a recent internal poll that perhaps showed her support continuing to tumble, instead of leveling out.

“I think it’s about trying to re-set because people are clearly beginning to take her down a couple of notches,” said one souce, who also pointed to the New York Times endorsement interviews happening this week. “I think the accomplishment thing is partially pitched at the Times endorsement.”

Ms. Quinn’s campaign, however, dismissed the theories and said the race was simply heating up. With more voters tuning in, they felt it was time to crystallize the distinctions between Ms. Quinn and her rivals in the starkest terms- as “a contest between leadership and talk,” per a press release.

But the campaign was also seizing on an opportunity created by last week’s critical Times story about Mr. Weiner’s congressional record, which provided an unexpected opportunity to shift the conversation, according to campaign source.

“Recent press reports on both Weiner’s lack of a record and the back and forth over the Upper East Side transfer station gave us a huge opening to talk about Chris Quinn’s record, leadership, and the pandering her opponents are engaged in,” said a Quinn campaign insider. “The campaign seized those opportunities and we will continue to do so.”

But some rival campaign sources are questioning even that tactic.

For example, one argued accomplishment-based messaging had failed for both of Ms. Quinn’s Council speaker predecessors, who lost their  own mayor bids.

Another questioned whether voters were really looking for a long resume, and instead argued most want a candidate who shares their values, pointing to President Barack Obama’s decisive 2008 win over Hillary Clinton—whom most voters considered more experienced.

“I’m just very skeptical that the accomplishments thing is effective,” the source said.

Additional reporting by Colin Campbell.

What’s Behind Christine Quinn’s Negative Turn?