Christine Quinn was surrounded.
At a Council hearing today at City Hall, the Council speaker and mayoral front-runner was beseiged by women, minority groups [including a group of members from Make the Road New York], labor unions and political rivals, targeting her unwillingness to allow a vote on a bill mandating paid sick time, before pro-business opponents of the bill provided her some relief.
The first person to testify was Ruth Messinger, the former Manhattan borough president who in 1997 became first woman to be the Democratic Party’s nominee for mayor of New York City. (She cheerfully noted that the guards at the front gates of City Hall this morning had no clue who she was.)
Quinn is the only woman running for mayor and if elected would be the city’s first female, and first openly gay mayor.
The second speaker was a Hispanic man who works at a car wash. There is no major Hispanic candidate running in the Democratic primary, and the coalition supporting paid sick days is trying to make the issue a litmus test among that coveted voting bloc.
Also testifying in support of the bill was Kevin Finnegan, a top political operative for 1199 SEIU, the powerful healthcare workers union, whose support is also highly sought after by all the Democratic candidates. “We need to cover all workers,” Finnegan testified, setting a benchmark for not compromising the bill to include a smaller segment of the workforce.
Quinn arrived after Messinger’s remarks and declined to say much in the way of an opening statement, saying she was there to listen. Sitting behind her for was her chief rival on this issue, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who is a de facto member of the Council.
De Blasio used his opening remarks to reiterate criticism of Quinn that he’s made along the campaign trail.
It’s been “two years and 361 days we’ve been waiting for a vote” on this bill, he said. “I’m hoping that the additional outpouring of interest we are seeing before us today means that we will soon have an actual democratic process in this town and get a vote on this crucially important issue.”
While de Blasio spoke, Quinn mostly rifled through a 66-page report on the bill produced by the New York City Council Committee on Civil Service and Labor, whose chairman, Councilman Michael Nelson of Brooklyn, supports the bill.
The lengthy report doesn’t do much to settle the matter.
“It should be noted that the economic research on paid sick leave is slim,” the report says. It goes on to estimate that implementing the bill “will cost the typical employer between 1.1% and 1.8% of total compensation costs” and “impacts an industry in the same way as a payroll tax.” (It’s worth noting that the committee staff, who play key roles in producing these kinds of reports, is overseen by the speaker’s office.)
Quinn got some support from a second panel, which featured opponents of the bill.
Among the points raised by critics of the measure, including Kathy Wylde, the president and CEO of the pro-business Partnership for New York City, was the cost to small businesses of providing paid leave, the city’s inability to monitor and enforce the bill, and the question of which workers would actually benefit from it.
Wylde and her fellow opponents made a point of not arguing with the overall goal of allowing workers time off when they’re sick, and instead focused their criticisms on the specifics of the bill. Wylde at one point said many workers at small businesses already are granted time off from their employers, a result of an informal practice that’s widespread in small businesses, where management and employees work particularly close together.
Quinn spoke briefly with reporters after the panel, and said “some very important, specific, legislative issues were raised that need to be looked at.”
She also struck back at her political rivals, arguing that it’s easier to grandstand on this issue than to find a real solution.
“Look it’s easy to throw around criticism and rhetoric,” she said. “It is much harder to draft legislation that helps people without causing unnecessary, undo harm. That is the point of this hearing process.”
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