The New York Times ran an interesting piece yesterday on City Council speaker Christine Quinn and her long friendship with Emily Giske, a well-connected lobbyist with the firm Bolton-St. Johns who has both lobbied Quinn and advised her on her campaign.
The two power lesbians have cemented their bond since meeting in 1992, when Quinn worked for out Council member Tom Duane and Giske was a Democratic campaign adviser. Since then, Giske introduced Quinn to her now-fiancee, Kim Catullo, and moved into London Terrace, the same Chelsea apartment building the speaker lives in. But their relationship also has its professional dimension:
Ms. Quinn has presided over multiple Council deliberations of concern to clients of Ms. Giske’s firm, over issues like whether businesses should be required to provide paid sick leave, the disbursal of city budget money to nonprofit groups, and land-use matters along the Brooklyn waterfront and elsewhere.
At the same time, Ms. Giske has advised Ms. Quinn at key moments in her career, including her contested bid to become speaker and her controversial decision to back a one-time lifting of the city’s term limits.
Quinn tells the Times she and Giske (right) are careful not to breach any ethical boundaries: “Emily and Bolton-St. Johns abide by exactly the same rules as every other firm in the city,” she wrote in an email. “In fact, under my leadership we have made New York’s lobbying laws some of the strictest in the nation.” But some New Yorkers are suspicious of the relationship, which will undoubtedly go under deeper scrutiny as Quinn’s 2013 mayoral campaign kicks into high gear.
Favoritism toward Giske’s firm, Bolton-St. Johns, isn’t patently obvious: The council has helped some of Giske’s clients, from Care for the Homeless to Kentucky Fried Chicken, and opposed others—like the Cigar Association, when it voted to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products in the Big Apple.
In fact, if you’re looking for a real bombshell in the article, you won’t find it. Sure, there’s questions raised about a dismissed Quinn staffer who took a job at Bolton-St. Johns, but by and large it’s quite similar to any feature you might read about an elected official and a powerful ally.
Perhaps that’s what makes it noteworthy: Politics is an insiders game and if we want to win, we need to learn the rules and play by them. Or at least change them from inside.