Why Did The Irish Lesbian Democrat Lose So Badly In NYC?
Print Friendly and PDF

Ms. Quinn, left, with her wife, Kim M. Catullo, spoke to the news media after casting her vote in Manhattan on Tuesday.

The Establishment candidate in the NYC Democratic primary was City Council speaker Christine Quinn, an Irish lesbian. But she only got 15.5% of the vote.

In Quinn’s Loss, Questions About Role of Gender and Sexuality


In July, two dozen accomplished women — bankers, law firm partners and technology executives — sat Christine C. Quinn down in a conference room in the Met Life building for some honest talk about her quest to become New York’s first female mayor.

The participants, including Mary Ann Tighe, the real estate executive, and Diana L. Taylor, girlfriend of the current mayor, warned Ms. Quinn that a woman seeking power always faced perils and that the very qualities that had brought her this far — drive, ambition, toughness — could make her unlikable to many.

... Afterward, a few of the women privately concluded that Ms. Quinn just did not get it. She needs a voice coach, one said, and a less naïve attitude about the magnitude of the gender challenge she faced.

Sir Laurence Olivier arranged voice lessons for Margaret Thatcher in the 1970s. She learned to sound less shrill and more calmly authoritative.

That reminds me that in the first half or so of the 20th Century, it was common for ambitious people in various walks of life to take enunciation lessons from actors or other experts. But that mostly seems to have gone underground after the anti-formality revolution of the 1960s. For example, I did a lot of speech and debate in high school, but don't remember much emphasis on improving the sound of our voices. Diction coaching had typically been used by social climbers to lose lower class accents (e.g., My Fair Lady), so it was falling out of fashion with the 1960s increased emphasis on authenticity and anti-snobbism.

Still, I suspect many successful people today have paid for training of their speaking voices, even if it doesn't get talked about as much as it used to. After all, sounding like a distinguished individual is not a bad step toward getting yourself treated like a distinguished individual.

Getting totally off topic here ... What predicts success in speech training? I suspect singing ability, for one thing. The natural timbre of my voice is okay-sounding, but I have no sense of rhythm (I dread being exposed during audience-clap-alongs). And the notion of staying on key while singing remains a wholly abstract concept despite my wife patiently explaining it to me whenever I ask her again (because I've forgotten that I didn't get it the last time she explained it). Also, I'm poor at doing impressions and accents: the summit of my competence is Pepe Le Pew. I can't even say "Put another shrimp on the Bar-B" with a recognizable Australian accent. Hence, it's not surprising my speaking abilities are undistinguished and I prefer to communicate via keyboard, where I can edit before sending.

... Exit polls showed no gender gap in the results and indicated that Ms. Quinn lost for a number of reasons — her close association with the plutocratic incumbent mayor, her rivals’ ability to outmaneuver her on the issue of stop-and-frisk policing, and her inability to be a change candidate in an election in which voters sought new direction.

Still, her supporters wonder: Why has New York, home of tough, talented women like Eleanor Roosevelt and Anna Wintour, proven resistant to female candidates? And was it simply too much to expect the electorate to embrace a candidate who would be not just New York’s first female mayor, but its first openly gay one, too?

New York is becoming what Paris was a century ago, and what Los Angeles was, to a lesser extent, a half century ago: the dream destination of heterosexual women.

I've never lived in New York, but I visited Manhattan often from, say, 1979-1986. You'd see a few models and other ultra-beautiful women, but for average level of female attractiveness way back then, Manhattan lagged the west side of Los Angeles. (Milan might have been ahead of even L.A. Paris, however, was disappointing.)

My impression from a couple of short visits in this decade, however, is that New York has now pulled well ahead of L.A. in feminine beauty. Lower Manhattan in the evening now looks like one giant set for a romantic comedy movie.

Why? Well, the decline in street crime certainly helps. Yet, the endless Wall Street boom that began in 1982 is likely the single biggest factor in attracting attractive women to Manhattan, and now Brooklyn. According to Charles Murray's Coming Apart, in 1960 Beverly Hills was, by far, the highest average income community of some size in the U.S. But by 2000, the Upper East Side in NYC had pulled well ahead of Beverly Hills in income.

Wall Street is one of the most sexist industries in America, so women with options in life are of course fleeing all those ex-lacrosse player bond salesmen for places where women are respected for their strength, like Northhampton, MA. Oh, wait, that's not actually happening ...

It's almost as if Henry Kissinger was on to something when he said there will never be a final victor in the Battle of the Sexes because there's too much fraternizing with the enemy.

In perhaps the most painful twist for the candidate, Democratic women rejected her, voting for Bill deBlasio instead, by more than two to one, according to exit poll results from Edison Research.

“There is a perception that women will support women, and that’s just not necessarily true,” said Wendy Gruel, who lost a brutal race for the Democratic mayoral nomination in Los Angeles earlier this year, and is friendly with Mr. de Blasio from their days in the Clinton administration. “You cannot run a race where you expect people to do that.”

Of the 10 largest cities in the United States, only one has a female mayor — Annise D. Parker in Houston.

Who is a lesbian. We were at Rice U. at the same time, but I don't recall her.

And as the City Council speaker, Ms. Quinn is already an outlier; the state and city are considered tough terrain for female candidates.

In general, New York is one of the big leagues of male v. male competition (look at the current mayor, who is also a self-made eleven-figure billionaire in the top ten of the Forbes 400). All else being equal, the farther out to the right various bell curves extend, the more male-dominated they will be.

Some of New York’s highest-profile elected women have been exceptions: Hillary Rodham Clinton, who catapulted into the state from her perch as first lady, and Kirsten E. Gillibrand, who was first appointed to a vacant Senate seat.

“Democratic party politics, dominated by men, have been less hospitable for women in New York,” Ester Fuchs, a professor of political science at Columbia, said. Women are “getting into the primaries but they’re not winning,” she added.

Part of the problem, she said, is that contrary to the hopes of Ms. Quinn and her campaign aides, women almost never vote as a bloc in city races, in which issues like abortion figure very little.

It's almost as if all the talk about the Gender Gap over the last 33 years was kind of missing the point.

Without a women’s vote, a gay vote — which never really materialized

See "Why Lesbians Aren't Gay." Is there a gay male plus lesbian bloc in NYC? Does anybody know? Or is its existence once of those things that everybody just assumes because that's the name of the category, the way that the Republican brain trust knows that Mexican-Americans will vote like crazy for Cuban Marco Rubio for President because the name of the Census category is "Hispanic?"

New York City's economy seems like it would attract more gay men than lesbians. Gay men often make a living selling beautiful things to rich men's wives. And NYC has lots of rich men.

— or a powerful ethnic affiliation, like with Jews or Hispanics, she said, Ms. Quinn was left without a base.

“She’s Irish,” Ms. Fuchs pointed out, noting that many Irish voters have left the city. “That was a bigger problem for her than anything.” ...

Ms. Steinem, who endorsed Ms. Quinn, said that the city’s very might makes it more difficult for women to break through. “Wherever there is more power, there is more opposition,” she said, adding, “If you’re tough enough to run New York City, you’re too tough to be considered acceptably feminine.”

Print Friendly and PDF