As of this writing, Christine Quinn, the first female and openly gay speaker of the New York City Council, remains a front-runner in the city’s crowded race for mayor. A poll by Quinnipiac University, the New York Times reports, shows Quinn, the second-most-powerful elected official in the metropolis, with 22 percent of the vote among registered Democrats, just behind Anthony Weiner’s 25 percent—a statistical dead heat. The numbers for Quinn’s memoir, With Patience and Fortitude, however, are much grimmer: The book, published June 11 by HarperCollins, charts at No. 564,916 on Amazon’s sales rankings.
Released three months before the NYC mayoral primary election, the 242-page volume—which, with its expansive line-spacing, children’s-primer-size font, and multiple repetitions, should have added up to only one-half that length—is a transparent public-relations ploy. While this is hardly an unconventional strategy before a highly contested election, what is glaring is Quinn’s emphasis on the personal often at the expense of the political, particularly a strange choice given the conventional wisdom around Quinn’s candidacy. As the Times’ Ginia Bellafante astutely noted in May, shortly after Quinn contacted the paper to discuss her eating disorder and alcoholism in the lead up to her memoir’s release, the mayoral candidate “doesn’t have a personal authenticity problem; she has a political authenticity problem, which talking about food or alcohol addiction cannot manifestly solve.”
Nor can an exhaustive account of her walk down the aisle. Quinn devotes three of her book’s 16 chapters to the minutiae of her wedding to long-time partner, attorney Kim Catullo, in May 2012, nearly a year after New York State legalized same-sex marriage. “I’d figured that planning a wedding would be a lot of work,” Quinn writes, “but it turned out to be an even more humongous job than I imagined.”
Reading about Quinn’s wedding preparations (parts of which, along with her blow-by-blow account of the day same-sex marriage was passed in the New York State Legislature, were also excerpted in the May issue of Vogue, whose readership definitely numbers more than the mere 100 who bought Quinn’s book in its first week on sale) dulls the senses as much as watching a prematrimony montage in a Katherine Heigl movie. Quinn’s search for a bridal dress includes a Vera Wang catastrophe—a gown the speaker loved was out of the running once she discovered that Khloe Kardashian had been married in the same design (“I was devastated because that was my dress!”)—followed by a triumph at Caroline Herrera (“[A]t Caroline Herrera the dresses were exceptional and the people weren’t just very nice, they were very, very nice”).
There are detailed recapitulations of fittings and Quinn’s efforts to lose weight and tone her arms. (She does not disagree with this assessment of her body from her father and campaign-stop regular, Lawrence, quoted early in the book: “You’re big-boned. You would have been good back in Ireland in the fields flipping sheep.”) She recounts shopping for bridal undergarments; the difficulty in finding a cream-colored pantsuit for Catullo; a prewedding spin class at SoulCycle in Tribeca (“We thought it would be a great way to bring our family and friends together and launch the day with great music and positive energy”); the plot points of a video, inspired by When Harry Met Sally, shown before the nuptial procession and called … When Chris Met Kim.
Does being a high-profile lesbian bride, who gleefully succumbed, as millions before her have and will, to the wedding-industrial complex, make Quinn fit to run the largest city in the country? Will Quinn’s anecdotes about hair combs, rings, and five-tiered chocolate chip cakes endear her to those New Yorkers who know little about her, or persuade those liberal voters furious about her snug relationship with Bloomberg to forgive her? Might it even win over conservatives, who can nod in recognition at Quinn’s traditional quest to say yes to the dress? Perhaps just as importantly, will those who read her book, named after the two lion statues that guard the entrance to the main branch of the New York Public Library, have any confidence in a politician capable of this staggering repetition, occurring in just two pages: “That’s another reason I love the lions,” “I love those lions,” “I love the dressed-up lions”? (Quinn wrote the book with Eric Marcus, an author of several works on gay topics. It was edited by Henry Ferris, who helped shepherd Barack Obama’s 1995 memoir, Dreams from My Father, the eloquence and insight of which is nowhere to be found in With Patience and Fortitude.)
A candidate’s focus on his or her emotional life, of course, is not a novel tactic when trying to appeal to voters. After all, Weiner, who resigned from the House of Representatives in June 2011 after his sexting scandal, has been spouting pop-psych bromides about healing, forgiveness, and redemption since April, a month before he announced his run. Yet Quinn’s intense focus on her “relatable” personal triumphs and tribulations—“That’s life, and that’s the story of my life, just as it may be the story of yours,” she writes in the book’s prelude—only highlights what she too often blithely glosses over: her public record, which will help voters decide her fitness to run a city of 8 million.
She only cursorily mentions one of her most controversial decisions as council speaker, devoting a mere five paragraphs to her support of extending Mayor Bloomberg’s term limits from two to three in 2008—a defensive recap she obtusely concludes with, “The whole experience with extending term limits was tough, but on reflection I have no regrets about my decision.” And she completely ignores her most ignominious political moment, a City Council slush-fund scandal in which, as the Times reported in April 2008, it was revealed that “[f]or years, the Council budgeted millions of dollars for dozens of fictitious community organizations and used the money later for grants to favored neighborhood groups.”
For a woman whose mayoral ambitions have been clear for years, Quinn seems curiously less interested in cementing her progressive bona fides in her book than winning over balloters with a rom-com recap of her nuptials. (Her thoughts on governing are often articulated via banalities such as “Tell me the problem. We’ll do what we can to help get it fixed. Government can do a lot to help. That’s what we’re here for.”) Too bad the obsessive, mind-numbing enumeration of wedding-day marginalia only diminishes one of Quinn’s nobler moments in office: Her stalwart effort to ensure the legalization of same-sex marriage in her home state. Yet even when discussing this fierce legislative battle, the outcome of which would affect the lives of thousands, the candidate cannot help but trivialize it by adding even more inconsequential personal details: “The vote in Albany was to be held the week of June 20. The timing made my life a little bit complicated, because a month or two earlier our niece Kelley had asked to have her college graduation party at our beach house.”