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Is Christine Quinn Famous Enough To Be New York’s Mayor?

The post-Bloomberg political/fame calculus.

Christine Quinn is a lifelong local political operative. Of course, that locality just so happens to be New York City, which goes part of the way in explaining why Quinn’s  recently released memoir was excerpted in Vogue and she has been heavily courted by fashion-industry insiders. Quinn also happens to be relatively young and an out lesbian running for mayor, and so that helps, too, in ginning up interest from glamorous national publications. But this week, the New York Times reported that her memoir sold a mere 100 copies in its first week on shelves. Maybe the stunningly low number has more to do with the publishing industry’s troubles, but I suspect that, simply, Quinn isn’t as famous as people want her to be. 

Who are the “people” in question? Well, aside from whatever poor editor was responsible for inking her deal and the campaign staff tasked with raising awareness of their boss and the magazine editors eager to anoint a new, substantive It Girl: the people of New York. Although Quinn has been the frontrunner since long before the campaign actually started, there has been a distinct lack of enthusiasm for her candidacy. Even Mayor Bloomberg, whom Quinn supported steadfastly even when it cost her support among progressives and whose administration she is tacitly promising to continue if elected, reportedly cast about for alternative candidates, all of whom were more famous than Quinn. It is difficult to separate out Quinn’s strength from her weakness. Part of the knock against her is that she is a creature bred of her environment, the backrooms of New York politics—the knowledge of which forms the capstone of her campaign. And yet what Bloomberg seems to believe—and what, perhaps, the massive changes that the city has undergone in his three terms proves, in some measure—is that it takes not a compromised operator but a presence to get things done in New York. Bloomberg is clearly of the opinion that you hire a CEO from the outside, not promote from within the ranks.

New York City exceptionalism has always been a thing. But over the last 12 years, the city itself has gotten shinier, cleaner, richer, more full of tourists. The city’s self-image—at least as I, who have only known it in the Bloomberg era, understand it—has less to do with fuhgeddaboutit scrappiness than it used to. Despite the European tourists and the bikesharing, New York has more in common with mainstream American than it used to, and there is nothing we Americans like more than celebrities. Meanwhile, Anthony Weiner, the one genuine national celebrity in the race, performs a burlesque version of that old-school New Yorkese. His campaign video features him sitting on a stoop in Park Slope, where, he reminds us insistently, he grew up. (The video doesn’t mention that he now lives in a Manhattan apartment owned by a Clinton donor, where his monthly rent is five figures.) The Times subsequently published a devastating account of Weiner’s professional record, in which he comes across as a fame-hound uninterested in actually legislating. And yet: He is still a personality, a name. When Marc Tracy followed him around on the campaign trail recently, Weiner negotiated with a voter by promising that if she’d consider backing him, he’d take a picture with her friend. (Not the kind he became famous for, I presume.)  Whoever wins the mayoralty will eventually or even instantly become a celebrity—as Rudy Giuliani and Ed Koch did. It’s not clear, though, that New Yorkers wouldn’t prefer that fame to come pre-fab, a big-box mayor for a big-box era.