Christine Quinn On NYC & Leaning In

There is a saying that the mayorship of New York City is the second hardest job in the country. (The first, of course, is the presidency.) Which may be why the current race is so heated — this city boasts a host of motivated candidates who have worked incredibly hard to get on the ballot.
However, this race also marks a serious historical benchmark with Christine Quinn hoping to be the first female — and LGBT — mayor of New York City. What we love best about her, though? The fact that she hasn't let either of those labels define her, as she's climbed the ranks and nabbed a well-earned rep for her tough-as-nails attitude.
So naturally, we were thrilled when the mayoral candidate agreed to come by R29 HQ for a chat and a photo shoot. And we were even more impressed by what she had to say when it comes to women in the workplace, healthy competition, and dreaming big. For Quinn, the idea of "leaning in" comes naturally, and she says her gender and sexuality have never hampered her ability to help oversee America's largest city.
No matter your politics, you'll find yourself hard-pressed not to find inspiration in Quinn — as a woman, an aspiring civil servant...or just a New Yorker.
01_ChristineQuinn01_051Photography by Winnie Au

There’s been some uproar from residents around Lincoln Center over the nuisance that Fashion Week is for them. What are your thoughts on a permanent location for the event?

“Well, we can’t lose Fashion Week. Period. I would want to have a conversation with the industry. I don’t know what the industry’s perspective is on it. Is it better to have one permanent place, or is the difference of creativity in moving around better? For me, I’d want to take the industry’s lead.”

Do you attend any of the shows?

“Not as much as I would like to, because of my schedule. I have been to a few shows, which are always fun. I’ve gone to Elie Tahari’s show, and I’m friends with DVF, but have yet to go to one of her shows.”

Fashion Week generates so much income for New York. How do you plan to capitalize on this and keep the economy growing?

“Well, we need to keep Fashion Week here, so we also need to keep the industry here. That will probably involve zoning and land issues around the fashion district. The economic impact of the industry — the spinoffs like this — is enormous. We’re talking multi-billion dollars. It’s not something we can think is a given. To think that there’s no way New York can lose the industry is the exact way you do lose it. If you’re not vigilant, you can lose something like it overnight.”

How do you deal with the increased number of participants and tourists that crowd the event?

“Any time there’s an event in the middle of what is the most congested city in the world — a place where people live, work, and recreate right next to each other, there’s going to be issues. We need to decide, we need to come together and work it out. Communication, pre-planning, and coordination can almost always address most of those things.”
02Photography by Winnie Au

There’s been a lot of conversation this year about women taking a more active role in the work place — specifically around Lean In. Did you read that?

“I haven’t. I went to one of Sheryl’s book parties, but I haven’t had the chance to read it.”

Do you think she’s just capitalizing on the zeitgeist or doing something more meaningful?

“I think she’s really seized a moment. I think she’s spurred a great conversation out there about what women need to do to seize their individual moments in their individual workplaces in their individual lives. I think she kind of opened herself up in a way to be the face of that. It’s enormously brave; it’s enormously useful.”

Do you think she’s right? Do you believe that women do have a tendency to hold themselves back in a business setting?

“I don’t think we can, or should, blame women. I think there is a confluence of events and forces that will lead women to sometimes not be as aggressive as they need to be. The good thing is being aggressive, being forceful, are things you can learn. They’re things you need to build muscle memory about to make sure it becomes a part of who you are.”

What would you say to women who are afraid of being perceived as forceful?

“You know what? There will be a moment in life, whether you’re forceful or not, where someone will label you something that is negative. You might as well go through life the way you want to. If what you want is to be engaged and forceful, to 'lean in,' well, do that. At the end of the day, somebody someday is going to say something about you. At least you can look back and say you lived the way you wanted to.”

03_ChristineQuinn01_006Photography by Winnie Au

Becoming the mayor of New York City is said to be the second hardest job in America. How do you personally maintain work/life balance? Do you think it is possible to "have it all"?

“My work/life balance is often not that good! I’m probably not the best role model for that. I think 'having it all' is a phrase I don’t particularly like. You need to have what you want. ‘All’ seems to me to be an imposed list, an imposed definition by society of what ‘all’ is supposed to be. As women, we should be able to decide what we want, how we want it, and [how we] get there. That means it won’t be perfect, there will be mistakes, but that’s fine; that’s human. ‘All’ should be a determination of what we want, not what somebody else or society says.”

Why do you think it’s hard to come to terms with people in power, especially powerful, intelligent women caring about the way they look? Take, for instance, the New York Magazine backlash?

“You know, I don’t. I’ve tried to come to terms with it myself. I mean, I thought I looked pretty on the cover of New York magazine. It was fun. It was a day I got to be a model. How often does that happen in a normal person’s life? I think it’s a fair question to ask. On one hand, you can be defined as not feminine, which is a negative. I don’t know. I think it’s something we all need to think and talk about. The thing about clothes and trends are that they’re fun. And I guess I don’t understand why people in certain positions can’t have fun.”

Do you have anybody you consider to be a mentor? What’s the most valuable piece of advice they gave you?

“I’ve never had a formal or semi-formal mentor. With that said, I’ve had different people I talk to and call on for advice. Ed Koch repeatedly told me to do what I think is right. He had a potty mouth, and he’d follow it up with a, ‘If people don’t like it, bleep ‘em!’ He’d say it over and over and over again.”

If elected, you’ll be the first woman in this position. How important is that in the context of this city’s history?

“I think it’s incredibly important! We’re New York! We’re a trailblazing place where things happen that have never happened before, and the rest of the world follows our lead. For us to be this far into New York’s history and never to have had a woman mayor, that’s not a good part of our record. I think we need to change that. It’ll make a big difference in how women and girls see their potential in this city.”

What challenges do you face that your opponents might not?

“I remember when Hillary was at an event for Obama, and she said she couldn’t wait to go back to exercising because every morning she woke up and had her hair done — [while] Obama woke up and went for a jog. Political races are challenging regardless of your gender. I think there are all different kinds of challenges across the board.”