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Speaker Christine Quinn Urged to get Behind a Living Wage
New York Daily News
Celeste Katz

May 2, 2011
View the Original Article

One of the city's premier gay political groups is joining the push for City Council Speaker Christine Quinn to get behind "living wage" legislation. If she's eying a 2013 run for mayor, she may want to listen.

Quinn hasn't yet backed the controversial legislation, which Mayor Bloomberg opposes. It would require large employers in city-funded projects to pay workers at least $10 an hour with benefits or $11.50 without - far more than the state minimum. Supporters call it economic justice; detractors say it will drive business elsewhere.

The Stonewall Democrats have joined a coalition applying pressure to get living wage legislation through the City Council - and are now formally leaning on Quinn, the openly lesbian speaker who may want to replace Bloomberg when his third term ends.

Stonewall Dems President Joseph Hagelmann told the Daily News that "although some may believe that we are all white Chelsea boys earning lots of disposable income to spend on exotic Atlantis cruises and haute couture, the reality is that most LGBT New Yorkers are not on the A-List.

"If you are, that's fine - but what about the Latina lesbian single mother from the Bronx who struggles to put food on the table and keep a roof over her kids' heads?"

Stuart Appelbaum, head of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, chimed in with compliments on Quinn's political track record. "Speaker Quinn is a top leader on LGBT issues, and we hope to convince her that the living wage fight is also a fight for justice and economic advancement within the LGBT community," he said.

Quinn spokesman Jamie McShane said the speaker and her Council colleagues are looking forward to a hearing on the living wage bill, which is set for May 12.

"We are pleased that more voices are represented to better inform the democratic process. The more civic engagement, the more robust the debate, the better our Council hearings are able to serve the public," McShane said.

Hunter College Prof. Emeritus Ken Sherrill, who has done extensive research on gay political activity in the city, makes two main points about why this issue could be important to Quinn's future: First, gays and lesbians are more likely than others to be politically active. Second, they don't just rely on "identity politics" to make choices at the polls.

"I think she's well-regarded, but I think there's been some controversy," which is always the case with longtime politicians, Sherrill says. "What people tend to forget, or not realize, is how progressive, how far to the left, LGBT voters are. Questions of economic justice and racial fairness resonate greatly with [them]."

If Quinn does decide to jump into the arena, she could face a blazing-hot Democratic primary against people who have spent years burnishing their liberal credentials in a liberal city.

There's Rep. Anthony Weiner, who went further left on national health care reform than even President Obama; Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and Controller John Liu, who both hammered their 2009 runoff opponents with the backing of the Working Families Party, and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who tied the knot in New Haven because New York doesn't allow same-sex marriage.

There are plausible economic arguments for and against living wage legislation. A decision by Quinn either way could certainly be defended.

But as everyone in this city knows, the business of government is politics - and the last to make calculations about the next election are the first to get left in the dust.