New York's City Council on Wednesday elected its first woman and first openly gay leader, a position widely regarded as the second-most powerful seat in city government.

Christine Quinn wept several times during a passionate speech to the 51-member council, thanking her father and her partner, Kim Catullo, who looked on from the audience.

"Let me say that I am incredibly proud that in the most diverse city in the world, diversity is seen as a strength, and not an impediment," Quinn said.

The post is powerful mostly because of its influence over budget matters. Term limits forced out her predecessor, Gifford Miller, whose run for mayor fell flat last year.

Quinn, 39, a Democrat, was elected by a vote of 50 to 0, with one member abstaining in protest of what he said is a flawed process of electing the speaker. Other council members had sought the job, but Quinn became a virtual lock when she gained the support of Democratic organizations in Queens, the Bronx and Brooklyn.

Quinn is among 350 openly gay politicians serving in all levels of government nationwide, according to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, an organization that advocates for gay candidates. That number was just 41 in 1991, group spokesman Dave DeCicco said.

Quinn's election "is a testament to the skill and passion that the gay community can offer in the public arena, and that sexual orientation should never be a barrier," DeCicco said.

Historically, the City Council speaker seat has been used as a place to publicly spar with the mayor. Long before Miller prepared to run against Mayor Michael Bloomberg last spring, he clashed with the Republican billionaire over countless causes.

Among them was Bloomberg's quest to build a new football stadium on Manhattan's West Side, a venture that Quinn also opposed. But when asked this week how she would get along with the mayor, Quinn noted that they have also worked together on various projects -- for instance, to ban smoking in bars and restaurants.

And during her speech Wednesday, Quinn went a step further, saying that too often the City Council "acts as a report card on the mayor."

"I sincerely hope, and I believe, that we can agree more often than we disagree, and that both sides of City Hall can work together with a renewed sense of trust and teamwork," she said.

The mayor said Tuesday that his administration would be happy to work with her.