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On weekends, home for council speaker is at the Jersey Shore


BRADLEY BEACH, N.J. — Irene Maravelias was standing behind the counter of her popular deli here when she spotted a familiar customer, eating a Greek salad wrap and wearing shorts, a floral T-shirt and flip-flops.

“Hi, Christine,” she called out, tilting her head. “I didn’t know that was you because I can’t see so good.”

Christine, in fact, was Christine C. Quinn, the New York City Council speaker. And after Maravelias and Quinn chatted for several minutes about her vision problems, and whether diabetes or high blood pressure could be factors, Quinn gave Maravelias her cellphone number.

“If you want me to push the insurance company, I will,” Quinn said, before ordering hummus for three dozen to go.

In New York City, Quinn, a likely, and leading, candidate for mayor next year, is known as a gay-rights champion and a savvy if pugnacious Chelsea Democrat who has metamorphosed into an establishment figure comfortable with the city’s moneyed elite.

But for almost a decade now, on as many weekends as she can squeeze in year-round, Quinn has also embraced a parallel and largely anonymous existence in this beach town as a “Jersey Girl,” as one antique sign in her 1924 bungalow reads.

“I like to drive around, see who has new flowers, who has new awnings,” she said on a recent weekend, as a Rosanne Cash CD played in the background in her Volvo station wagon.

“This house is unfortunate,” she observed, showing a visitor around the neighborhood. “Why would you paint your house the color of mustard?”

Located in the Republican stronghold of Monmouth County, Bradley Beach is not the most advantageous place for an ambitious New York Democrat. But Quinn, a devotee of “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” and not its New York City counterpart, said she and her spouse, Kim M. Catullo, never considered, say, the Hamptons, even though she holds a fundraiser there each summer and would most likely rub elbows with donors and fellow politicians.

Quinn said there was “a large LGBT community in New Jersey,” adding, “I know that personally.” She generally avoids getting involved in the state’s politics, but she did criticize Gov. Chris Christie this year on same-sex marriage, which he opposes, saying the governor, a Republican, “shouldn’t play a political game.”

And New Jersey’s Democratic power brokers appear to favor Quinn. She has collected more than $410,000 for her 2013 campaign from New Jersey residents and former senior state officials — almost quadruple what any other mayoral rival has received. Her supporters include a former chief justice of the State Supreme Court, a former speaker of the State Assembly, a former attorney general, a former state party chairman, two former chairmen of powerful economic development agencies and two former chiefs of staff for governors.

Still, Quinn said she had not turned her house into a Lincoln Bedroom or Camp David for officials or allies. No council member has visited, she said.

Quinn grew up in Glen Cove, N.Y., on Long Island, and spent many summer afternoons at the beach in the Rockaways, N.Y. But she developed an affinity for the Jersey Shore in the early 1990s, when she shared an Ocean Grove, N.J., rental with friends she had made during a political campaign. She continued to visit the area, and in 2004, she and Catullo, a partner at Gibbons, a prominent New Jersey law firm, bought their four-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bathroom house for $485,000. They have since renovated the kitchen, expanded the master bedroom and planted hydrangeas.

Many politicians have their getaways. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, for example, has multiple vacation homes and seems most fond of spending time at the one in Bermuda.

For Quinn, the appeal of Bradley Beach, a quiet middle-class enclave a mile south of Asbury Park, N.J., is its low-key ambience and its convenient location. A short walk from the train station, the house is three blocks from the ocean, a 75-minute drive from the city and no more than an hour-and-a-half drive for Catullo’s four siblings, all New Jersey residents whose families are frequent overnight guests.

“The point of the house is about family and having family functions and having a place to get away and relax,” Quinn said.

The house is close enough to allow Quinn to race back and forth to events in the city. On the weekend before July 4, she drove down on Friday and spent the afternoon shopping for a family barbecue; drove back to the city on Saturday to attend the wedding of Chris Hughes, the Facebook co-founder, and Sean Eldridge, a political activist; and drove back to the shore to host the barbecue on Sunday. On Monday, it was back to New York for the funeral of Dr. Richard A. Isay, a prominent psychiatrist whose son, Josh, is Quinn’s political consultant, and to appear at a news conference on healthy foods with Bloomberg. And then on Tuesday, New Jersey again, to host her sister and brother-in-law, visiting from Connecticut.

Quinn tries to relax by taking long strolls on the boardwalk, jumping the waves and lounging on the beach while reading magazines (People and Elle were atop her coffee table). But, admitting that “boundaries aren’t my forte,” she often has a Bluetooth headphone in her ear, and she compulsively scrolls through her BlackBerry, even at stop signals while driving.

During the visit to her home, one minute, Quinn was fluffing her porch chair cushions and inspecting Figaro, her backyard fig tree. The next, she was calling her spokesman to discuss possible solutions involving the attorney general and others to a labor impasse with Consolidated Edison, asking, “What about the AG?” Then, as she pored over shopping lists for Costco and Wegman’s at her dining room table, she telephoned Catullo to review the shopping list.

“How much clam on the half shell?” she asked. “Should I get the eggplant?”

Quinn describes herself as a good baker but a terrible cook. At the family barbecue, attended by several dozen Catullos as well as Quinn’s father, she served drinks while Catullo, a vegetarian, flipped chicken cutlets and pork tenderloin.

“I have been told to step away from the grill,” Quinn said.

She often shops at the Asbury Park farmers’ market, nearby malls, big-box stores like PetSmart and a Wegman’s mega-supermarket on Route 35, but, she noted, “never Wal-Mart.” She is quick to recommend restaurants (the Belmar Cafe has “a really good corned beef hash”) and flag local landmarks (Jack Nicholson’s childhood home in Neptune; D’Arcy’s Tavern, once owned by the sister of Jerramiah T. Healy, the mayor of Jersey City, who also owns a house in Bradley Beach).

She pronounces Avon to rhyme with “have on,” just like local residents, and knows about the quirky parking rules and when her dogs, Sadie and Justin, are allowed off-leash on the boardwalk. And she knows intimate details about many small-business owners.

“Oh, no,” she said at one point, after parallel parking on Main Street. “Our frame store went totally out of business. Oh, that’s a drag. There were two women there; they were nice. One was a breast cancer survivor.”

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