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Christine Quinn Threatens to Sue TV Stations for Airing Critical Ads

By Jill Colvin | April 9, 2013 12:30pm

THE HORNBLOWER INFINITY — City Council Speaker Christine Quinn's mayoral campaign is threatening to sue TV stations, including NY1, for airing a negative ad that blasts her record — prompting charges of pettiness from her rivals.

Quinn's campaign lawyers sent a letter to NY1 and other stations, telling them to stop running the ad from New York City is Not for Sale, a new Political Action Committee launched this week with a singular mission: to make sure anyone but Quinn is elected mayor.

The 30-second spot, heavy with smoke and ominous music, paints Quinn as a backroom dealer who has misled the public about her motives and will do anything to get ahead.

"When Christine Quinn doesn't support our values, how can you support her for mayor?" it asks.

Quinn's lawyers allege the ad is inaccurate.

"Your station need not air the subject ad. If you choose to do so, however your station bears responsibility for its content," Quinn's lawyer wrote to NY1 executives, the channel reported.

She told reporters that the ad was out of line and said her rivals should be up in arms over an independent group spending money on the race.

"This is not about like or dislike," she said. "This is about an anonymous, independent expenditure — an independent expenditure that will not disclose who their funders are — running inaccurate ads," she said following a debate on the future of the city's waterfront that was held on a boat named the Hornblower Infinity docked at the Hudson River's Pier 40."

"You're simply not allowed to put ads on television or anywhere else that distort the truth and make factually incorrect claims," she said.

Independent expenditures are legal under the city's campaign finance system, but groups must disclose their members and their spending. Quinn did not specify which of the ad's claims were false.

Quinn's rivals were quick to pan her for the legal threat.

"I think it's bit much and it's very over-the-top," said former Comptroller Bill Thompson after stepping off the ship. "I think it is an attempt to intimidate the press, attempt to intimidate the stations, and I think it's wrong."

He accused Quinn's campaign of trying "to blunt what the truth is" on controversial issues, such as overturning term limits to pave, and said that he saw "a lot of accuracy" in its claims.

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who Quinn's campaign had accused of being connected with the ad, said Quinn was "in denial about how upset people are at the positions she's taken."

"People are expressing their anger, and that is part of the public discourse," he told reporters. "I think the notion of any candidate suggesting that something shouldn't be aired publicly is problematic."

He said that while he'd prefer that all independent expenditures be banished, the process is currently legal, as long as sources are disclosed.

"Everything I saw seemed accurate to me," he said.

City Comptroller John Liu agreed that threatening the press was unwise, and said he likes to abide by the a "golden rule."

"If you're running for office or you're serving in office, don't mess with people who buy ink in bulk or don't mess with people who have really big antennas or big broadband," he said.

A NY1 spokeswoman said Time Warner Cable officials are leaving the ad in rotation while they study the complaint.

"The NYC is Not for Sale spot will continue to air as ordered unless we arrive at a decision to act otherwise," Time Warner Cable Media's Rich Ambrose wrote.

Quinn's team has tried to tie the ad to de Blasio, charging that he has close ties to the group, whose members include the president of the Communications Workers of America union Local 1180, Hugo Neu Corporation CEO Wendy Neu, and NYCLASS, a group of animals rights activists who have demanded an end to horse-drawn carriage rides, which Quinn supports.

According to city campaign finance records, Neu and Local 1180 have contributed to both Quinn and de Blasio's campaigns.

Tuesday morning's event was the first forum in memory to take place onboard a boat.