By Edith Honan
NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City mayoral hopeful Christine Quinn spoke out on Tuesday about her decade-long struggle with bulimia and alcohol abuse after her mother's death from breast cancer.
"It was such a challenging time, and it was a time where everything was just bad," Quinn, the speaker of the New York City Council, told an audience at Barnard College. "I thought I was the only 16-year-old girl in the world who had no ability to deal with her mother dying."
Quinn, who in polls is leading a crowded field of Democratic candidates running to succeed Michael Bloomberg, would be the city's first lesbian and female mayor.
Her personal history is well known, but her comments marked the first time Quinn, who was elected council speaker in 2006, has so directly addressed her emotional unraveling after her mother's death in 1982.
In a New York Times article on Tuesday, Quinn said that eating and purging and drinking excessively had become habits by the time she entered college.
Quinn, whose memoir will be published next month, entered rehab for 28 days in 1992. A decade later, Quinn began dating Kim Catullo, a lawyer, whom she married last May.
Quinn declined to say if she was part of Alcoholics Anonymous.
"Asking for help, going to the rehab, dealing with bulimia, cutting back on drinking, getting drinking out of my life altogether - all of that helped me put the pieces back together," Quinn, 46, told the Times.
Quinn's dominance in the race for mayor has been challenged in recent weeks, as former Congressman Anthony Weiner openly mulls entering the race.
Weiner, an outspoken liberal who resigned from office two years ago after admitting he had sent lewd pictures of himself to women he met online, was the subject of a lengthy article in the New York Times Magazine in April.
Several media reports have suggested Weiner has already begun hiring aides for a mayoral candidacy, which he could announce within days.
Douglas Muzzio, a professor of political science at Baruch College and a long-time observer of city politics, said the volume of personal information the public has received about the mayoral candidates is "unprecedented."
"It's like reality elections," Muzzio said.
Other candidates, especially Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, have criticized on Quinn for her role in temporarily dismantling the city's term limits law, allowing Bloomberg, Quinn and other city officials to stay in office an extra four years.
Over the weekend, de Blasio held a fundraiser with gay and lesbian New Yorkers in an effort to undercut Quinn's support and exploit disenchantment with Quinn among liberals.
Asked at the Barnard event if Quinn was talking about her past travails in an effort to "soften" her image ahead of what is expected to be a bruising lead-up to the September 10 Democratic primary, Quinn said the timing had nothing to do with the race.
"To some degree I wish I had been ready sooner. But you're ready when you're ready. And no matter who you are these are not easy things to talk about publicly. They're not easy things to talk about at all," Quinn said.
For her part, Quinn said she has learned to cut herself some slack.
"The drive to be perfect as people, but particularly the drive to be perfect as women, is what keeps us from being great. Because we're not perfect," Quinn said. "It's that imperfection, those cracks, those errors and those blemishes that are the most interesting."
(Editing by Scott Malone and Nick Zieminski)