Two Democratic candidates for mayor challenged Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker, on her home turf on Friday, for blocking a vote over paid sick-leave legislation.The two candidates, William C. Thompson Jr., a former comptroller, and Bill de Blasio, the public advocate, are, along with Ms. Quinn, leading contenders for the nomination to succeed Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. Paid sick leave has emerged as a major issue dividing them.
Testifying in the City Council chamber, Mr. Thompson rebuked Ms. Quinn for keeping the bill, a favorite of liberal groups, from a vote. Mr. Thompson supports passing the legislation but postponing its start date by a year, which he said would strike a balance between business interests and workers’ needs.
“If it seems like we’ve been discussing paid sick leave for years, it’s because we have,” Mr. Thompson said, noting that he was skipping the beginning of a candidates’ forum on affordable housing in order to testify. “The only obstacle to this legislation is the speaker, who’s blocking this bill with an iron fist.”
Ms. Quinn, who spent a little less than an hour at the hearing, was not there to hear him. Before Mr. Thompson spoke, she held an impromptu news conference in a side room to say that while she supported the concept of paid sick leave, the current measure, which would require many small businesses to give their employees at least five sick days a year, was “not a version of paid sick leave I can support at this time.”
“Some very important specific legislative issues were raised,” she said, adding that she was open to further discussion.
She said parts of the current bill, which has the support of a supermajority of council members, might cause “undue harm” to businesses in a shaky economy. That argument may endear her to the city’s business groups, whose support Ms. Quinn has tried to cultivate this year, but delaying the legislation for months has left her vulnerable to criticism from liberals, turning the issue into one of her most delicate problems.
Shortly after Ms. Quinn arrived at the hearing, Mr. de Blasio reiterated his support for the legislation from a seat directly behind Ms. Quinn’s. Mr. de Blasio, echoing testimony from proponents of the bill, said paid sick days would not only provide workers with economic stability, but also keep sick workers from infecting others.
Without naming Ms. Quinn, Mr. de Blasio said the bill had been debated long enough. “I’m hoping this additional outpouring of interest,” he said, will “restore democratic processes to this town.”
Another Democratic candidate, John C. Liu, the city comptroller, joined Mr. de Blasio and Mr. Thompson at a rally in City Hall Park before the hearing, calling the bill “long overdue.”
In a further sign of the importance of the issue, all of the Democratic mayoral candidates except Ms. Quinn are scheduled to appear on Chris Hayes’s television show on MSNBC on Sunday morning to discuss the legislation. A spokesman for Ms. Quinn said the speaker was unable to attend.
At her news conference, Ms. Quinn said she would study two metrics — the unemployment rate and the failure rate of small businesses — while she decided how to move forward on the issue.
Business groups argue that high taxes and strict regulations already make the city inhospitable to small businesses, and they say the paid sick-leave requirement would damage businesses that cannot afford to compensate employees for days off, prompting them to lay off workers.
The bill’s sponsors, however, say it is a public health measure as well as a matter of workers’ rights. They have already modified parts of the bill in response to testimony from business groups in two previous hearings and said on Friday that they only needed a vote to put their work into effect.
Originally posted at the New York Times.