This will go down in American history as the (sad) year when women lost mayoralty races in our nation's two biggest cities. Time to regroup, girlfriends.
In the three decades since Jane Byrne became the first woman elected mayor of Chicago, we've learned that, in order to win, a woman must run a strong campaign and then do six more things:
- Demonstrate raw, pure desire.
- Out-work the competition every day.
- Play the way men play.
- Show that she is with and for women.
- Work for every vote.
- Remember the difference between campaigning and governing.
By these criteria, how did Christine Quinn do?
It was Judge Ilana Rovner, the first woman to serve on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, who said women politicians must possess "pure, raw desire." No one who is hurting -- and that includes a lot of people in post-recession, outer-borough New York City -- believes a politician has the pure, raw desire to help, when she is dragged reluctantly into endorsing a policy that protects the basic health and working conditions of those who are hurting. They would be the million New York workers, who had no paid sick leave for far too long, because Quinn wouldn't call the matter to a vote in the City Council. OK, you've got "raw, pure desire" to be mayor, but to help me? Not so much.
Sometimes out-work means out-smart. Bill de Blasio went personal by airing an ad featuring his bi-racial son, presumptively a man who could be a victim of the city's then stop and frisk law. Quinn went personal talking about her personal battles with weight and alcohol. Likely, most voters can sympathize with those challenges, but they don't carry the same weight as those induced by discriminatory public policy (as a federal judge found about stop and frisk, during the course of the campaign).
Winning the same way men do is doing just what Christine Quinn did during those eight years partnering with Mayor Bloomberg: As the New York Times put it: "She made deals with the mayor because that is how stuff gets done in the actual world." But, then, as the Times also put it: "...Ms. Quinn wound up as his proxy when the Enough of Bloomberg Already movement arrived." The unfortunate (and sexist) truth for women candidates is that many voters still expect women officials to be "purer" than men. And, most times, they are. (No Antonia Wieners or Elissa Spitzers were in sight.) Consequently, the Quinn-Bloomberg deal-making went down wrong, and the Just Because She Is a Woman card, played-out quite some time ago, was no substitute.
Quinn reached out to women specifically, particularly after feminists pressed her to allow the paid family and medical leave proposal to come to a (winning) vote. Unfortunately, the perception for many women voters was that this act was more political than heartfelt. (Otherwise, why the delay?)
Working for every vote means remembering that every day is election day, for tactics as well as for messaging. Quinn spent time trying to cobble together a run-off spot, as a campaign tactic, and seeking the support of neighborhood-oriented "microgroups." Instead, she needed to focus on a message that resonated with all New Yorkers. Winning block by block can work in smaller towns. In a city with this many people, so many competing interest groups, and so many women just trying to make it, Quinn needed a message that was rhetorically powerful, consistent and clear. She didn't have one.
Forget that campaigning and governing are two widely different experiences and rue the day. I met Christine Quinn a couple times in Chicago this year. I liked her. She was charming as well as smart and forthright. And, while she has the brash New York style for which some impugned her, I pointed out to my lunch companions that New Yorkers like brash: see Koch, Giuliani, (and Weiner and Spitzer, at least for a while). Indeed, that wasn't Quinn's problem come Election Day. The problem was that hurting New Yorkers don't like campaigns where the candidate is advocating for "hope and change," when the in-office record suggests a lot of otherwise.
Quinn's main challenge was to endorse policy positions that resonate because they really would change business as usual, even if they don't change everything one might wish changed. (See "Obamacare.") Had she done that, her campaign might have gone differently. That's the main lesson in all this for Christine Quinn -- and for women considering a run at political office anywhere else.