CITY HALL — She walked like an Egyptian.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn angrily stormed out of a major press conference Monday planned to celebrate the expected passage of a living wage bill — despite a promised veto by Mayor Michael Bloomberg — after someone dared to criticize Hizzoner by calling him a "pharaoh."
Quinn, standing on the steps of City Hall with a cadre of elected officials and advocates for the proposed measure, was introducing a long list of the bill's supporters when someone yelled out that everyone “but Pharaoh Bloomberg” stood behind the legislation.
In response, Quinn, who is expected to run for mayor, bolted from the event, saying the remark was "not appropriate."
"In a democracy people have the right to have different views, and we do not have the right to then call them names," she said.
"If that's what this press conference is about, I'll go right back inside and continue to do the work of business. But this is not democracy, calling people names we don't agree with," she said as she left, leaving reporters and protesters stunned.
Mayor Bloomberg has long opposed the bill, which is supported by Quinn, and would mandate higher pay for workers in certain city-subsidized projects. He claims it would be disastrous for the city.
In promising to veto the measure last week — as well as following through a veto of the related prevailing wage bill, which that would apply to certain building workers in properties where the city leases a large percentage of space — the mayor argued that the legislation would kill jobs and undermine progress the city had made recovering from the recession.
“The so-called living and prevailing wage bills are a throwback to the era when government viewed the private sector as a cash cow to be milked, rather than a garden to be cultivated,” Bloomberg said last week, in what aides noted was his first public veto address. He also threatened that, if the council overrides the vetoes, which Quinn has vowed to do next month, he will sue.
Quinn's support for the controversial measures has been seen by many as part of a concerted effort to distance herself from the mayor, ahead of her own 2013 run.
While she has typically been seen as a staunch ally, she has been taking a more aggressive stance in recent months, overriding a pair of parking-related vetoes and filing her first lawsuit against a new homeless intake policy she slammed as cruel.
But Monday's walkout caused many to question her commitment, as well her distance from the mayor, whose popularity has fallen in his third term.
“I think she left because she was never really a part of the cause,” said Carlos Pacheco, 62, of the Bronx, who made the pharaoh comment, and accused Quinn of "playing" politics by supporting the bill.
He said the name, which has been used at other rallies, was intended to draw attention to the plight of workers being taken advantage of by those in power."
“They were political leaders in Egypt and they had the little people build their pyramids. And today, we can relate to that," he said.
Still, he said after he felt the comment was a mistake.
“I think I should have used better judgment," he said.
Michael Walrond, the pastor at the First Corinthian Church in Harlem, who was also at the rally and said he had coined the "Pharaoh' bash, was also disappointed in Quinn.
“You cannot talk about democracy and then want to muzzle someone for voicing an option,” he said, arguing that Quinn's walkout would deeply hurt her chances of becoming mayor.
“I think today she hurt her chance with a lot of people,” he said. “It was tragic. It was senseless and disrespectful, period," he said, adding that her conduct also raised questions about how suited her temperament was for the job.
“Clearly it discombobulated Speaker Quinn, which was pretty unbelievable," he said. "You know, if you’re a leader in any capacity you learn to be a little bit more thick-skinned than that, especially when you want to lead people and — I dare say — if you want to lead a city.”
Others said they were disappointed that Quinn's actions had taken the wind out of the movement's celebratory sails.
“I thought it was unfortunate," said Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who also spoke at the rally.
“I understand what her concerns were, but this is a victory for her. And leaving, I think takes a little bit away from that,” he said.
At a second press conference inside of City Hall before the start of the council meeting, Quinn defended what she jokingly described as her "graceful and elegant and dainty gazelle-like walk up the stairs."
"I don’t think I overreacted," she said, stressing that the move did not indicate any change in position on the bill.
“Let me be clear, I couldn’t disagree with Mayor Bloomberg more, on the substance as it relates to the living wage bill,” she said.
“That said, I feel incredibly strongly that all of us in government have to do everything we can to make sure government is civil,” she said, arguing that maintaining a civil tone is what has made her council so successful in passing measures such as pro-tenant legislation and negotiating to prevent last year's layoff of more than 4,000 teachers.
She also stressed her independence from the mayor, noting that her council has over-ridden every veto sent by the mayor.
"I think you can agree and seek to agree... civilly, and disagree civilly, and get things done," she said. “I'm very proud of my record."
The living wage bill, which passed later Monday afternoon 45-to-5, is expected to boost wages for about 600 workers — far fewer than earlier versions of the bill. The bill will apply to developers and their subcontractors, but not to tenants who rent in city-subsidized projects.