By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
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Last Friday night, Mark Green, more comfortable as front-runner than he ever was as outsider, strode into North Shore Towers, an 1855-unit development with a movie theater, golf course, supermarket, and two swimming pools on the Queens border, a couple of miles from the suburban sanctuary where he grew up four decades ago. He put on his black suit jacket for the first time in a day of hot shirtsleeve campaigning, and the look was complete: His erect head, dancing hands, gleaming teeth, slimming frame, and blow-puffed gray hair all mesh with a man almost as clever at small talk as he is at big talk.
Introduced to a seated crowd of a hundred or so elderly Jews as "a kid from Great Neck," the 56-year-old public advocate corrected his civic association host, emphasizing "Bensonhurst-Great Neck," reminding everyone of his Brooklyn roots. Not only does Green's campaign bio skip the nearly 15 years he spent in Nassau County, but his best-kept secrets are that he didn't move to the city until he was 35 and that he's so Manhattan he's only slept in an outer borough twice since he was three.
Yet this son of the suburbs, whose country-club, tennis-champion youth and early Nader years in Washington lacked a gritty urban edge, has been ahead in every poll since the mayoral race began. He is counting down the days to September 11, when he expects, in a four-way Democratic primary, to take the first step toward governing a city that both daunts and beckons him. He did a little Jewish bit for the North Shore crowd, invoking his efforts on behalf of Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, terrorist victim Devorah Halberstam, and kosher Yankee dogs (so people could "nosh and root at the same time"). Recalling that he was even invited to speak at the complex when he ran for Senate in 1998, though the parents of his opponent Charles Schumer lived there, Green quipped, "Whatever happened to Chuckie Schumer, anyway?" But his core message was remarkably similar to the one he delivers across the citydemanding more of teachers, praising David Dinkins's "civility and decency," citing his lawsuit to unmask police brutality, and blasting the Giuliani dream of a stadium in every borough as more "nostalgia" than economic development.
The final question was from a redhead breathing fire. OK, we heard all the nice stuff, she said. Why did you support Ralph Nader for president last year when he's against Israel? Why are the Satmar and the Muslims supporting you when they "spit on Israel?" The crowd until now had been quietly appreciative. Suddenly they were leaning forward in their seats, 75-year-old adrenaline aroused and flowing.
Green started with the easiest charge. He observed that he'd actually backed Al Gore and tried to get his old friend Nader to cool it. "I worked for Nader from 1970 to 1980, making our cars safe," he said of the presidential candidate, who last year called for a suspension of American aid to Israel. "That was 30 years ago, and I'm still proud of it." He talked about how he recently went to the 50th anniversary of the synagogue in Elmont that his father helped found and where he was bar mitzvahed. He recounted how he'd taken his son Jonah to Israel after his bar mitzvah to show him that he was "a link in a 4000-year-old chain," and wondered aloud why "my commitment" to the Jewish state was being questioned.
And then he did something he did not have to do. He likened the recent Muslim immigrants whose coalition endorsed him to "our own families who faced discrimination" when they arrived in America. He said he welcomed the Muslim support, renouncing only the endorsement of one group in the coalition that refused to recognize the state of Israel and reject terrorism. He wanted a city of mutual Jewish and Muslim respect. Extending his unity appeal, he said, "It is good for the Jewish community that I can walk into any black community in this city and be welcomed." The applause that filled the room forced the redhead to explain privately to him that she was "just trying to provoke you," administering a kind of grandmotherly gut-test. "I loved your answer," she said.
By the time Green was done at North Shore, his wife, Deni Frand, and children, 22-year-old Jenya and 17-year-old Jonah, had arrived and were getting ready for a ride to the Hamptons and a quiet Saturday together. He and Frand will celebrate their 24th anniversary on August 13. They met at a political fundraiser in the summer of 1976, when he was running the Senate campaign of former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark and she was organizing benefits with Harry Belafonte. "I looked across the room," Frand recalls, "and he had such a warm and confident smile, I was completely drawn to him." All Green can remember is telling himself, "Whoa-a-aI live in Washington and she lives in New York." Six months later, she moved to Washington, and six months after that, they were married.
It is a love-at-first-sight saga remarkably like the one that brought Donna Hanover from Miami to Washington four months after meeting Rudy Giuliani (though that is clearly where the marital similarities end). In fact, Mark Green and Rudy Giuliani were born in Brooklyn only 10 months apart, grew up in Long Island just five miles apart, went to college and law school virtually simultaneously, missed the Vietnam War with high draft lottery numbers, lived only in Washington and New York City as adults, decided to put their son and daughter through private schools, and wound up enthralled by the same Boston cop.