Christine Quinn is the current Speaker of the New York City Council, one of the most powerful positions in city government after the Mayor. Quinn is the first female and first openly gay person to serve as speaker, which is a position that was created in 1990 as result of a revision in the city charter. Quinn was elected to the city council in 1999. After serving on the city council for almost seven years, she was elected city council speaker in January 2006. Quinn entered politics to manage the city council campaign of Thomas Duane in 1991, after which she served as Duane's Chief of Staff for five years. Quinn later became the Executive Director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project and was appointed a member of the NYC Police/Community Relations Task Force by then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Question: What can New York do to grow a more economically inclusive society?
Christine Quinn: Well, I wouldn’t say New York is an unreasonable place to live; I would not want to characterize New York City as unreasonable. It has certainly become more expensive, and from an affordability perspective it is challenging for a lot of people. And I think the place you... two places you see that a lot that we’ve worked on in the Council are around housing and just rents being very, very high and purchase prices of buildings really high. That’s one of the... the rent issue is one of the reasons I have been such a longtime and outspoken tenant advocate in New York City. It’s why on a regular basis my colleagues and I fight the rent increases at the Rent Guidelines Board to try to prevent constant increases when tenants' incomes aren’t going up, but landlords profits are going up.
We’ve also tried to work with the city to improve the quality of the housing stock in New York City, because what you don’t want is there to be apartments that are affordable, but they’re sub-standard in their livability. That’s why we passed the Safe Housing Law—a law which really gives our Department of Housing many more tools in their toolbox to bring unlivable buildings up to livability. It’s also why we are working right now with the development community on taking apartment buildings that were going to be sold as luxury or market rate coops or condos and instead putting those up for auction at a lower price for middle income New Yorkers.
Now another area where it’s hard for New Yorkers sometimes to deal with costs, and increasing costs for different things in the city is around food. Many low-income neighborhoods don’t have supermarkets, which put in low- and moderate-income neighborhood residents in a place where they have to buy all of their food at bodegas, which usually means there’s less of a selection, not as much healthy food, and it’s more expensive. So a couple of years ago we passed a major land use rezoning, which we believe will help facilitate the development of supermarkets in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods, and that’s a way to help New Yorker’s save a little bit of money around food. It’s also why we’ve pushed to expand green markets and farmer's markets in the city and put money in the budget to make sure those green markets and farmer’s markets take food stamps, which is a great way to help people who are a little short on money get healthy food, and a great way to get more money to farmers as well.
Question: Why is it important for New York to "protect the diversity of its community?"
Christine Quinn: Well, New York City is perhaps the greatest example of an immigrant city ever in the history of the world. And it’s a city through its diversity that shows the tremendous contribution that immigrants make and can make to cities and countries all across the world. We don’t want to just talk about that, we want to continue that legacy. We want to keep that thriving, melting pot nature of New York City alive. And if you want to keep that, you have to tend to it. You have to nurture it. And I think we want to make sure our city always remains that diverse. And that anyone, anywhere in the world who wants a better life or searching out a dream feels like they can come to this city and be accepted and have opportunity.
You know, internationally there are lots of folks who want to come here, but the reality of the lack of immigration reform on the federal level actually makes it harder for companies to bring people to New York and other parts of the United States as well. So it’s an issue you can’t just sit back on or very quickly you’ll lose your diversity and lose that long line of international folks who want to come and live and work here.
Recorded on October 28, 2010
Interviewed by Andrew Dermont
Directed & Produced by Jonathan Fowler