Green for Mayor

Public Advocate Is the Best Choice

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Months before this mayoral campaign was even under way, the prevailing wisdom adopted by the pop analysts of mainstream media was that the four Democratic candidates were hopeless: they were boring, uninspired, uncharismatic, too wed to the past, too tied to special interests to take on the system. Openly pining for hints of rudyesque fire, the pundits looked longingly to the novice billionaire running as a Republican, showering him with an attention denied all other contenders. Unfortunately for them, Michael Bloomberg has proven to be mostly a bumbling embarrassment.
Mark Green, candidate for mayor
Photo: Julia Xanthos
Mark Green, candidate for mayor

At the same time, largely unheralded in the media, those on the Democratic line have been working overtime to present workable, if unsexy, solutions for issues on police-community relations, education, affordable housing, job growth, and the future of welfare—solutions, in short, for all the genuinely tough tasks that Rudy Giuliani was too busy name-calling or planning fantasy stadiums to undertake.

For sure, none of the Democratic candidates has a future in show business. None of them are electrifying speakers, none have fashioned a single issue that captures the imagination. But measured by their combined level of experience and governmental talent, this year's Democrats are as capable as those on the 1977 primary ballot, when Bella Abzug, Herman Badillo, Abe Beame, Mario Cuomo, Ed Koch, and Percy Sutton all vied for votes.

Peter Vallone has transformed himself from a clubhouse drone into a leader whose gut instincts led him to approve antitobacco laws and campaign finance reforms, all against the urgings of lobbyists and incumbents who viewed them with horror.

Alan Hevesi has always been a thoughtful official, one who prides himself on choosing negotiation over confrontation. But the comptroller's finest moment was his refusal to approve efforts to award a mammoth $104 million welfare-to-work contract to the mayor's cronies, a move that ultimately made Hevesi the chief target of Giuliani's venom in these last days of the race.

Fernando Ferrer, also a product of politics-as-usual, was so appalled at the condition of the borough he inherited that he spent the past 15 years laboring in the trenches, trying to turn the Bronx around. His aborted 1997 mayoral campaign, in which he twisted himself into corkscrews trying to run to the right of Ruth Messinger, was a denial of much of his own background. Candidate Ferrer of 2001 found his true voice and put forth a clear call to those who have been neglected by the Giuliani years.

The defining moment of the 1977 primary summer was the devastating blackout riot that frightened an electorate into following Ed Koch's pro-death-penalty chant. In 1989, it was an ugly racial slaying in Brooklyn that helped many voters decide between Koch and David Dinkins. In 1993, echoes of a riot in Crown Heights nudged Giuliani past Dinkins.

New Yorkers have been spared that sort of tragic high drama this summer. Instead it has come down to four, all eminently qualified candidates slogging it out, position paper by position paper, endorsement by endorsement. At the end of the day, the ruling pundits have it wrong: If anyone is a captive of the past it's Rudy Giuliani, who has steadfastly rebuffed the city's black and Latino communities; whose idea of effective governance has been rule by secrecy, fear, and selective prosecution; whose own system of patronage and favors for friends and allies has drastically outweighed anything the city saw in the four years that preceded him under an administration Giuliani still derides as the old-style clubhouse.

The biggest challenge to the next mayor isn't how to continue the acknowledged innovations Giuliani brought to policing; whoever wins will seek to continue and expand them. Rather, it is how to handle the detritus Giuliani will leave behind while at the same time juggling an apparently unavoidable steep downturn in the city's fiscal fortunes.

The best candidate for that mission, we are convinced, is Mark Green, the hardest working man in politics, a man who has spent his entire career speaking truth to power.

Green is a rare combination: The author and editor of 16 books, he is one of the preeminent analysts on the obstacles to democracy and the role of unchecked corporate power. Even if he wasn't a candidate for high elected office, he would be on anyone's list of original and perceptive thinkers about the business of government. At the same time, he has spent 11 years working in city government, advancing legislation and learning the art of the possible.

He made his name as a consumer advocate, a calling that has helped advance the political fortunes of many others. The difference was that while Green did his share of press conferences aimed at easy targets like small, price-gouging tourist shops, what he really relished were fights with the Big Boys.

He didn't have Giuliani's schooling in the ways of organized crime when, as Consumer Affairs commissioner under Dinkins, he launched the city's first attack on mob control of the private carting industry after recognizing that citizens were paying far higher prices than necessary.

He was relentless in his assaults on the tobacco industry, the first to denounce cigarette makers for using cartoon characters in advertising designed to lure a new generation of nicotine addicts. He understood both the dangerous implications and the influence of HMOs long before most others, and his studies of the industry led to fines and law changes.

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