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New York City mayoral candidate Christine Quinn in New York on May 11. (Chang W. Lee/The New York Times, via Redux, CHANG W LEE)

Big Apple

All Sensibility, Little Sense in a New Political Memoir

In Christine Quinn’s new memoir, the New York City mayoral candidate portrays herself as emotional and insecure—a bewildering strategy, writes Michelle Goldberg.

In With Patience and Fortitude, the new memoir by New York City mayoral candidate Christine Quinn, the days following the attacks on the Twin Towers are narrated almost entirely through the prism of her love life. “Reports show that, in the months that followed, people were inspired by September 11 to take a new look at their lives,” she writes. “Some people ended relationships. Others started them. It just so happened that my first date with Kim was the start of the most important relationship in my life.”

At the time, Quinn was not yet the first female and first openly gay City Council speaker, the second-most-powerful elected official in New York City. She was, however, already a City Council member representing district three, which stretches from midtown to SoHo, less than two miles from Ground Zero. How did the attacks affect her district? After reading her book, I have not the slightest idea. I do know, though, that she met Kim Catullo on a blind date arranged by friends on September 14, that she found her terribly attractive, and that, as she writes, “the next night a whole group of us went out to dinner and then to Bowlmor Lanes for some bowling.” What’s weird is not that Quinn went out during those frightening, charged days—it’s entirely natural that she sought solace in sociability. The strange thing is her choice of emphasis. Ordinarily, political aspirants exaggerate their proximity to momentous events—in this case, the governing of a city in crisis. But With Patience and Fortitude is not an ordinary political book.

It’s hard to figure out just what Quinn is doing here. Sure, her book’s sentimentality and self-deprecating girlishness might leaven her image as a brash virago, a woman whose friends and colleagues described her in a New York Times cover story as “controlling, temperamental and surprisingly volatile, with a habit of hair-trigger eruptions of unchecked, face-to-face wrath.” It does very little, however, to demonstrate executive competence or show us what Quinn hopes to do in office. It’s more a chatty recovery memoir rather than a campaign manifesto, as if Quinn thinks that New Yorkers will vote for her as long as they can sympathize with her.

As has already been widely reported, With Patience and Fortitude details Quinn’s personal struggles with addiction, including a monthlong hospitalization for bulimia in her 20s and the problem drinking that led her to give up alcohol three years ago. This was probably a story she had to get out in front of, since it was likely to emerge during the mayoral campaign. Here, it becomes a redemption narrative: “the amazing news is that today I actually know happiness, and know that even in life’s dark moments I can get help.” That’s entirely predictable. What’s not, though, is that instead of pivoting back to politics, she mostly stays mired in the personal, dwelling on her own foibles in a stereotypically female and possibly self-sabotaging way.

No male candidate, for example, would conceivably write something like this: “In a weird way I’m actually not a long-term planner, maybe because I’ve learned that you never know what might happen around the next corner. I often say that my five-year plan is to be thinner, and that’s about it.” She informs us that she’s an “unbelievably slow reader, who has to read things a couple of times to digest them.” She spends nearly twice as much time on her hunt for a wedding dress as on her controversial decision to support Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s bid to extend term limits so he could remain in office.

A moment of drama comes when she discovers that Khloé Kardashian had already worn the Vera Wang bridal gown she’d set her heart on. “I was devastated because that was my dress!” she writes. “How could they have not told me that a Kardashian had already worn it? I overreacted wildly, and dramatically took to the bathtub and wouldn’t talk to Kim.” She ended up buying a sleeveless dress, which occasions a panic about her upper arms: “It was crazy, but I’m not rational about my arms.” (Quinn might have used her painful relationship with her body as an opening to talk about Bloomberg’s contentious ban on oversize sodas and his promotion of biking, both of which she ignores, just as she ignores most other campaign issues.)

Further sartorial complications arise when she wants to have the pins favored by her late mother turned into hair combs to wear at the wedding. The first jeweler couldn’t do them the way she wanted, and so her father had to retrieve them. When he showed up to return them to her, she recalls, she was in the middle of a “serious press conference with immigration advocates who were protesting the federal immigration authorities’ use of fingerprint records from the New York Police Department to round up undocumented immigrants.” This is all we hear about this dispute. We do learn, though, that after a few false starts, both Quinn and Catullo were happy with how their hair turned out for the nuptials.

Perhaps Quinn thinks that after 12 years of the standoffish billionaire Bloomberg, what New Yorkers—particularly female New Yorkers—want is a mayor they can relate to. Or perhaps she’s trying to bait her opponents into calling her an unstable diva. Consider how incensed some women were by the Times cover story about Quinn’s famous temper. Many noted that rageaholic outbursts are hardly unknown among male politicians. “This story would never have been written if Christine Quinn was a man,” tweeted BuzzFeed’s Rosie Gray. As the sole woman in a Democratic primary that’s going to include Anthony Weiner, any hint of sexist bullying can only help Quinn.

So maybe it doesn’t matter that Quinn portrays herself as insecure and not particularly cerebral, because if any of her opponents try to use those things against her, the backlash will be fierce. Maybe she understands that getting voters to side with her emotionally is more important than where she stands on any laundry list of issues.

Or maybe she really is a little nuts.

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