"Don't look back. Something may be gaining on you." – Satchel Paige
It's only June and the race for mayor is already getting messy.
After months of serving as a moving target for her Democratic rivals as well as a independent group with deep pockets, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn yesterday fired back at them in a speech in East Harlem. While she didn't name names, it wasn't hard to connect the dots and figure out who Quinn was talking about, as she took digs at all of her major opponents, including Anthony Weiner, noting acidly that she offers "comprehensive solutions to complicated problems – not four-year-old position papers dusted off for a comeback attempt."
Quinn all but rebooted her campaign with a spirited defense of her time as City Council Speaker – talking more aggressively of her leadership style and what she accomplished at her time in City Hall than she ever did in her 240-page memoir that was published earlier this month.
The conventional wisdom in politics is that frontrunners generally avoid talking about their opponents while candidates who are trying to make up ground are the ones going on the attack. In this case, though, Quinn is trying to maintain her slipping lead while realizing that the possibility of a primary runoff is almost unavoidable. And you can't win a runoff if you never define yourself against your opponents.
It's odd that the catalyzing issue behind all of this was something that seemed so 2006: the Bloomberg administration's plan to build a garbage transfer station on East 91st Street in Manhattan. While the station is moving full steam ahead, Bill Thompson seized upon it (something he really didn't do four years ago when he ran for mayor) while both John Liu and Bill de Blasio are expressing concerns about the plant even though they voted for it when they were on the City Council.
The fight over the transfer station – according to Team Quinn in a toughly-worded press release – is "indicative of the larger dynamics of the race, where one candidate makes hard decisions, delivers actual results, and is willing to pay a political cost, while others offer rhetoric, lack a record of delivering, and pander to special interests."
In a Democratic race where the candidates largely agree with each other on almost every major issue, the campaign could boil down to personality and management skills – things that are important when you're leading the largest city in the country. While it could get muddy, voters should be glad that the candidates are finally engaging each other. Sometimes a mess can be a good thing for a political campaign.