The Green Team

Does the Voice Whispering in Mark Green’s Ear Have His Own Agenda?

Mark Green just doesn't get it.

For the first time in the modern political history of the city, the toughest ethical issue facing the front-runner in a mayoral campaign is an all-in-the-family matter. His brother, Stephen L. Green, runs the second-largest commercial real estate business in the city—with 10 million square feet in 25 Manhattan office buildings—giving him a direct stake in an array of development, transportation, tax, and other policy issues facing the next administration. Compounding this inherently incestuous intertwine, Stephen Green raised a record-smashing $672,450 for the campaign—reason enough, minus the family ties, for the public to carefully watch how his interests might influence his brother's mayoralty.

Yet the two Greens treat press inquiries about their relationship the same way Rudy Giuliani and Cristyne Lategano used to handle questions about theirs. "It goes right up to the line of privacy," Mark Green told the Voice, ducking one interview and cutting short a second. Stephen Green declined to get on the phone at all, and his secretary said that questions about the publicly traded company should be directed to his brother's press spokesman—an odd arrangement. While the two sat for a Times interview recently, they said its inquiries about the Green company's dealings with the city were "unjustified" and "irrelevant." If there's a stone wall now in the middle of a competitive race, it will be concrete should the only Green siblings win City Hall together.

Mark the Candidate has already allowed Stephen to put together his Business Advisory Council, a 19-member group that is helping set the campaign's economic policies.

Mark now promises "full disclosure" of direct business interactions between his administration and Stephen's company—which already collects $10 million a year from the city for office space it rents to several agencies. But the candidate had to be forced by The New York Times editorial board to reveal what Stephen raised, after months of hiding behind the facade that he was a "fundraising agent" of the campaign and thus operating beyond the finance laws' disclosure requirements. Only a Times slap on the wrist could get them to cough up the data.

In any event, Mark Green's promised recusal and disclosure on future city leases with his brother's company, which was all he was prepared to talk about during a Voice interview Sunday, hardly begins to address the issue. He insisted, in fact, that "it's good for the city" that his 63-year-old brother—seven years Mark's senior—"knows the economy so well" and that, as mayor, he would have such a knowledgeable "intimate" to rely on. He freely told the Times that he consulted Stephen Green when the Giuliani administration considered changing zoning rules to restrict the height of office buildings, apparently oblivious to the interest building owners might have in containing the availability of new space.

In fact, Mark the Candidate has already allowed Stephen to put together his Business Advisory Council, a 19-member group that is helping set the campaign's economic policies. But Mark the Mayor would have to face the fact that using Stephen as an adviser could create ugly appearance problems and hamper public acceptance of fair yet controversial policies.

Take the Grand Central Terminal area, for example. Asked twice by the Voice if he would consult Stephen on matters that might affect the terminal district, he twice demurred. He said he hadn't "thought it through thoughtfully yet" and that it was "too early" to do so. While indicating that he "would not discuss anything affecting his property areas" with Stephen, he refused to go into any specifics. "I'm not going to go through 10 issues now," he bristled, indicating that once elected he'd listen to his corporation counsel and other legal staff on the matter.

But Grand Central is a no-brainer now. Mark's campaign is being run out of the Graybar Building, Stephen's flagship and headquarters. It's one of several buildings Stephen owns that are either attached to the terminal or surround it. Not only is Stephen Green a board member of the Grand Central Partnership, he is the area's largest property owner. Since March 1998, S.L. Green Realty Corporation has purchased eight buildings in the area, alone or with partners, paying nearly $800 million. The latest buy was as recent as June—the $105 million purchase of 317 Madison, a 22-story tower with direct access to the terminal.

At virtually the same moment that Stephen was closing on the Madison Avenue property, Mark Green was the only mayoral candidate to join a coalition of advocacy groups at a press conference at the terminal championing a $3 billion plan to improve city transportation. Included was a proposed link to the terminal for Long Island Railroad passengers. Other elements of the plan would also affect the terminal district. Mark referred to the MTA's revenue shortfall at the press conference, suggesting that choices would have to be made among a series of desirable capital options. Would Stephen be a voice to listen to in setting these priorities or, for that matter, any other terminal district issue?

Though the brothers concede that they talk daily about the campaign, Mark says he did not talk to Stephen before taking surprising positions on two key development issues—the expansion of the Jacob Javits Convention Center and the city-subsidized construction of a new stock exchange. Green formally announced his support for the projects—each of which is expected to cost a billion public dollars—in a major economic policy address before the New York Building Congress on May 19, 1999.

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