I spent much of my Sunday afternoon reading "With Patience and Fortitude" – the frustrating memoir of City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the early frontrunner in the race for mayor.
Quinn's 240-page book focuses so intensely on her personal life – her mother's death from cancer, her coming to terms with her lesbianism and her marriage to her longtime girlfriend – that you'd almost forget that she's been the most powerful Democratic elected official in the city since 2006. Quinn does a good job explaining what it's like to be Irish-American and growing up on on Glen Cove, Long Island, with but don't read this book if you want to know what it's like to run the City Council. (Quinn doesn't even get to that until page 153.)
Writing about being an average student at Trinity College in Connecticut, Quinn discusses how she became involved in the anti-apartheid movement on campus as well as the good-government group ConnPIRG. But she never explains why she took up those causes. After college, Quinn gets involved in New York City politics, as a housing advocate and then as chief of staff for City Councilman Tom Duane (who she would succeed in 1999.) Quinn writes that "…becoming an elected official had not always been a huge goal of mine." So why did she change her mind – and why does she want to be mayor now? Those questions are never answered and we don't hear what makes Christine Quinn run.
Quinn portrays herself as a sometimes lonely person who had to battle through bulimia and alcoholism as well as coming to terms with her sexuality. She also explains that she's generally happier being in groups and working with people and hammering out deals: "In a job like mine, getting things done is essential, even if it means compromising on an issue to move things forward."
But most of those compromises are never talked about. Quinn does write about her 180-degree switch on term limits: "I think that all too often politicians take a position and never leave themselves open to the possibility that circumstances may change, or that they learn new information, or that the world may change, and that a position that at one point seemed cast in stone was worth reconsidering."
But with the exception of the Safe Housing Law, we learn little of the products of those compromises and Quinn's accomplishments as speaker. And we hear almost nothing about the man she's worked closely with for almost eight years, Mayor Bloomberg. We do get four pages on Quinn's wedding dress, though.
Ultimately, "With Patience and Fortiude" is Oprah-lite. We hear much about Quinn's challenges in her life and how she's overcome them. But the only reason why people are reading her book rather than someone's random blog post is because of what she's accomplished – and that she's running for mayor. And on both of those fronts, the normally-talkative Quinn is remarkably silent.