Speaker Christine Quinn: FDR Was the Greatest New Yorker of All Time

Christine Quinn hates it when people say "it is what is." As a kid she read every biography in her school library about a political leader or famous woman. "The idea in all of those books was that you could change things," she says in her recent Big Think interview, "Nothing 'is what it is'—things can always change to what we want them to be, and to be better. And as a kid that’s the idea I got out of those books."


As Speaker of the New York City Council—and arguably the second most powerful person in New York behind billionaire Mayor Mike Bloomberg—Quinn is both a political leader and a famous woman. Despite being one of the Mayor's proudest supporters, Quinn diplomatically avoided answering any questions regarding Bloomberg's ambitions to run for President in 2012 and any questions regarding her own ambitions to fill his shoes at Gracie Mansion. When asked whether New Yorkers should see the Mayor's recent reversal on term limits as hypocritical, Quinn says it would be a losing battle to tell New Yorkers how they should or shouldn't see anything. "What I can say is that, you know, I’ve never been a supporter of term limits and I’m not going to be voting in support of the referendum question next week," she adds. 

Like the rest of the country, Quinn agrees that New York is too reliant on Wall Street tax revenue. The answer to diversifying New York's  tax base, she says, is to focus on promoting growth in industries that people already associate with the Big Apple—like food. "Every other person you meet has a dream of creating a restaurant, a catering company, the next great cupcake," says Quinn, " So we are right now taking an old warehouse in East Harlem and converting it to an industrial kitchen, a place that will help and allow probably 40 or 50 start up food companies a year to be born, put people to work and get out there and
support themselves."

Speaking of supporting oneself, Quinn acknowledges that despite being known as an international melting pot and a bastion of tolerance, New York has a ways to go before becoming more inclusive and affordable. As an openly gay individual who recently participated in Dan Savage's "It Get's Better" campaign, Quinn expresses concern over a recent rise in hate crimes in New York. "We are in a place we’d rather not be at right now in 2010 where we’re seeing anti-LGBT hate crimes occurring at a much higher number than they did last year," she says. Quinn also offers up her own coming out story, which happened while riding the subway with her early boss Tom Duane, another openly gay New York City Councilman.
People tend to focus on their differences as problems, says Quinn, as opposed to using them as assets, or something that propels them to work harder and focus.

Finally, Quinn's conscience prohibits her from saying which will happen first—the next Mets World Series or the completion of the Second Avenue Subway—because her 84 year-old father claims he is not going to die until he gets to ride on the latter. In addition, Quinn says Franklin Delano Roosevelt is the greatest and most inspiring New Yorker of all time. "His wife," she adds, "was a close second."

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