Anti-Quinn Website Shows Perils of Being NYC Mayoral FrontrunnerHenry Goldman
Anyone clicking on the website christinequinn.com for information about the leading New York mayoral candidate might be surprised to see her characterized as a paranoid “political hack” who “runs a shell game.”
Christine Quinn, 46, a City Council member since 1999, failed to reserve her name as a dot-com Internet address, and she’s been paying the consequences. The website, which went online a year before she became council speaker in 2005, may be slowing an ascent that’s put her in the lead among Democrats seeking the party’s mayoral nomination.
The goal is to attract the attention of anyone using a Web search engine such as Google to learn about Quinn, said its creator, John Fisher, 60, a community activist and Quinn constituent in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. What they find instead is an unflattering depiction of the candidate.
“Some things are matters of fact, some are interpretation,” Fisher said in an interview. “We feel she should not be the mayor.” He said others were involved with the site, though he declined to name them.
Fisher’s opposition goes back more than 10 years to Quinn’s role in orchestrating a compromise among community groups, real estate companies and the Bloomberg administration to rezone the Hudson Yards on Manhattan’s West Side into a development of office towers, affordable and luxury housing, and open space. Fisher says Quinn sold out the community to obtain hundreds of thousands of dollars in political donations from developers.
He is one of several uncoordinated and sometimes anonymous individuals and groups whose “Anybody but Quinn” agenda has included misleading Internet addresses, pickets at her public appearances and television ads unaffiliated with a candidate and not subject to city disclosure laws. While Quinn remains the frontrunner, her support has slipped in polls since February as the attacks intensified.
In a Sept. 10 primary to elect a Democratic nominee, a candidate needs 40 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff with the second-place finisher.
Only 330,000 of 3 million registered Democrats voted in the city’s 2009 mayoral primary, so any tactic that could influence voters may become significant, said Joseph Mercurio, a Democratic consultant who specializes in using social media. Democrats in New York outnumber Republicans by 6 to 1.
“People are going to go to this website, but it will probably not influence voters when they recognize it’s not created by her,” Mercurio said. “Immediately you realize someone is trying to trick me, and that destroys its credibility.”
The site also undercuts its influence by failing to identify its sponsor or create a social network to organize opposition to Quinn, Mercurio said.
Quinn’s failure to register her name as an Internet domain reflects the unsophistication that most New York City candidates bring to campaigns, Mercurio said. Many continue to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on direct-mail advertising, not understanding the power of social networks and the Internet.
In the era before the Internet, a neighborhood adversary like Fisher would be just another gadfly, passing out fliers or attending public meetings. His access to the Web amplifies his message and potential influence, Mercurio said.
“He got there before her,” Mercurio said. “He was thinking about this stuff back when almost no one saw its potential, and the fact is the mayoral campaigns are still fairly primitive in using this.”
Quinn declined to comment on Fisher or the website. Her campaign spokesman, Michael Morey, said in an e-mail, “This is a silly attack website that has been registered since 2005, owned by the same person who owns 50 domain names that target everyone,” including Virginia Fields, a former Manhattan borough president.
Fields said Fisher’s opposition arose over her support for a Times Square rezoning in the late 1990s proposed by former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani that permitted construction of office towers and expanded the theater district.
“I don’t have a problem with activists; they’re a part of New York,” Fields said in an interview. “But he was very disruptive and rude, way over the top in how he responded to things that didn’t go his way.”
There’s evidence that the sustained attacks on Quinn have had an impact, Mercurio said. An April 19 Quinnipiac University poll showed that although she remained the frontrunner, favored by 28 percent of registered Democrats, her support was down from 37 percent on Feb. 27.
Quinn’s closest rival was former U.S. Representative Anthony Weiner, who resigned in 2011 after engaging in lewd online behavior. He received 15 percent without having even declared his candidacy. Public Advocate Bill de Blasio had 11 percent, former city Comptroller William Thompson received 10 percent and John Liu, the current comptroller, got 9 percent. The survey had a 3.6 percentage-point error margin.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP, is barred by law from seeking a fourth term.
In March, Quinn’s official campaign website, quinnfornewyork.com, was targeted by the creation of an almost-identical site, quinnfornewyork.org. The bogus site featured a page that purported to show her reversing a policy position to call for a city council vote on a proposed law that would require employers to provide sick pay.
Last month Quinn lashed out at an independent group calling itself NYC Is Not For Sale, which began airing a 30-second television ad on Time Warner’s all-news NY1 cable station and CNN accusing Quinn of advocating policies only for the benefit of wealthy “friends in the 1 percent.”
Quinn threatened legal action to force the ads off the air.
“You’re not allowed to just put up false ads,” she said in an interview on NY1.
Mercurio, the political consultant, called Quinn’s response “the absolute worst thing” she could have done. “It only attracted more attention to the ads and spread word of the attack,” he said.