Quinn was born in Glen Cove, New York, one of two daughters of Mary (née Callaghan) and Lawrence Quinn. Her mother died of breast cancer in 1982. She went to School of the Holy Child in the village of Old Westbury on Long Island in New York, and graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut in 1988. Her maternal grandmother, Ellen (née Shine) Callaghan, was a survivor of the sinking of the RMS Titanic.
She served as head of the Housing Justice Campaign for the Association of Neighborhood and Housing Development. Quinn entered politics to manage the City Council campaign of Thomas Duane in 1991, after which she served as Duane's chief of staff for five years. She later became the executive director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project, and was appointed a member of the NYC Police/Community Relations Task Force by then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
The 3rd district covers the Manhattan neighborhoods Chelsea, Greenwich Village, and Hell's Kitchen, as well as parts of SoHo and Murray Hill. In 1999, she ran for the New York City Council's 3rd district in a special election. She became the Democratic nominee and defeated Republican Joseph Mauriello 89%-11%.
In 2001, she won re-election to her first full term, defeating Republican Michelle Bouchard 75%-25%.
In 2005, she won re-election to her third full term unopposed. In 2009, she won re-election to her fifth full term with 81% of the vote.
Quinn served as chair of the Health Committee, during which she sponsored the Equal Benefits Bill and the Health Care Security Act, which requires that city contractors provide parity in benefits between married spouses and registered domestic partners. This and the Health Care Security Act, which ensures health care for grocery workers, were passed over Mayor Michael Bloomberg's veto.
In 2008, Quinn backed Mayor Bloomberg on a bill that overturned a public vote from 1993, which had imposed a two-term limit for elected officials, and another vote in 1996 that maintained the two term limit, although Quinn had previously stated she would not support undermining term limits. The Council voted to change term limits and allow the mayor, City Council members, and borough presidents to run for third terms, reversing the results of the two previous public referenda. Bloomberg and Quinn both subsequently ran successfully for third terms.
The Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, among others, denounced this move. The following year, in June 2009, the City Council approved a 40% cut in the budget of the Public Advocate's Office. Gotbaum declared herself a victim of "political payback" because of her opposition to the changes in the term limits law, a notion Quinn claimed was "ridiculous". All five candidates for Public Advocate showed up at city hall in June to protest the move, and in 2010 New Yorkers again voted overwhelmingly to limit politicians to two consecutive terms.
The New York City Council under her leadership had led efforts to make Greenmarkets around the city accept food stamps. She also opposed requiring applicants for food stamps to be electronically fingerprinted. New York State stopped fingerprinting food-stamp recipients in 2007, however the practice continued in New York City under the Bloomberg administration.
On December 26, 2012, Quinn wrote a letter to President Obama formally requesting that he commute Jonathan Pollard's lifetime sentence for providing classified information to Israel. She wrote, "I know I share similar views with many past and current American elected officials" and "therefore, I respectfully urge you to use your constitutional power to treat Mr. Pollard the way others have been treated by our nation's justice system."
Quinn has been a vigorous LGBT advocate during her tenure in City Council. She boycotted the annual St. Patrick's Day parade in New York in 2006 due to the policy of the parade's sponsor, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, against gays marching openly. That same year, she tried unsuccessfully to broker a deal with the organizers to allow her to wear a gay pride pin. Subsequently, she was named 2008 Irish American of the Year by the New York-based Irish Echo and has boycotted the parade every year since, marching instead in St. Patrick's Day parades in other cities around the world. On July 28, 2012 Quinn sent a letter demanding that the president of NYU end the university's relationship with Chick-Fil-A, taking issue with the stance of the company's CEO, Dan Cathy, regarding same-sex marriage.
Preceding the controversial lecture by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at Columbia University in 2007, Quinn wrote to the school requesting that his invitation to speak be withdrawn due to the Iranian president's support of state-sponsored terrorism and hate speech, the latter particularly with regard to the Holocaust. Her request was denied.
Under New York City law, the City Council speaker has authority over the yearly city council funds, worth almost $400 million (in 2012), to distribute among 51 members. The discretionary funding system sometimes referred to as the "slush fund" has been criticized in recent years, with some councilmembers alleging Quinn to have cut funding to their districts as a form of political retaliation. Quinn has repeatedly denied these allegations.
In April 2008 the New York Post revealed that Quinn's office had appropriated millions of dollars to organizations that do not exist, and that the money was then secretly routed to organizations favored by individual council members. In a news conference that followed Quinn said, "I had no knowledge of it; I did not know this was the practice". Quinn said that she found out about it only a few months earlier, alerted authorities, and ordered staffers to stop the practice, but they did not listen. Quinn hired a criminal defense lawyer to represent her in the federal and city investigations.
Records showed that nearly 25 percent of those "secret slush" funds went to organizations in Quinn's district, and that two of the biggest recipients of the funds had contributed to Quinn's 2009 mayoral run. In September 2011, one of the city council's lawyers reported that the federal "investigation has been closed without taking up any action" but only after two councilmen were indicted at the cost of $100,000 to the city.Health (Chair)
On March 10, 2013, after much speculation, she declared her run to become New York City's next mayor. (Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the incumbent, was term limited and could not run again.) In the crowded, nine-candidate race for the Democratic nomination, Quinn was considered the front-runner early in the race. However, her position faded as time went on and she came in third in the Democratic primary. Quinn received 15.5% of the total votes cast, to Bill de Blasio's 40.3% and Bill Thompson's 26.2%.
Christine Quinn has been discussed as a possible candidate to run against Bill de Blasio in 2017.
In October 2014, she stumped for New York Governor Cuomo's Women's Equality Party. When asked about the Working Families Party's criticism of the creation of a competing progressive party line, she said "Change is hard."
In 2013, her memoir, With Patience and Fortitude – A Memoir, was published by William Morrow. It sold poorly, with the New York Times reporting only 100 copies sold its first week.
In 2015, Quinn became President and CEO of Women in Need (Win), a nonprofit organization that is one of New York City's largest providers of services to homeless women and children. Win serves more than 11,600 people annually and placed 750 families into permanent housing last year. Since Quinn's first job was as a housing organizer for poor and homeless people, Quinn noted that she has come full-circle with her new role as leader of Win. Quinn said she was hoping to continue the good work of Win's previous longtime leader, Bonnie Stone, and use a holistic approach to help women facing domestic violence, eviction, and other issues.
Quinn resides in Chelsea, Manhattan, with her wife, Kim Catullo, a lawyer. The couple married on May 19, 2012, and spend their summer weekends at a home that they purchased in 2004 in Bradley Beach, New Jersey. Her former partner, Laura Morrison, was chief of staff to former State Senator Thomas Duane.
She joined the board of Athlete Ally, an organization fighting homophobia in sports, in February 2014.