Mark Green Exits, Stage Left

Sifting through the broken dreams of a great candidate who failed to connect with New York's most powerful constituency: liberal Democratic voters

 In between stops on the last day of his last campaign, Mark Green scribbled notes on a long yellow pad for a seminar that he teaches at New York University for freshmen enrolled in an honors class on politics. Although most people might take the day off after suffering a somewhat humiliating end to a long political career, the morning after giving his concession speech, Green showed up for work at his second job, at an NYU classroom on East 14th Street. He had taught the seminar's first class—two and a half hours long—on the Wednesday prior, interrupting a final, desperate push to become the Democratic nominee for state attorney general, a last gasp fueled by endorsements from The New York Times and Daily News—along with a ruckus stirred by a Village Voice report on the business dealings of his chief rival, Andrew Cuomo. But the professor never mentioned that he was running to become the state's highest law enforcement officer, or that he had five years earlier narrowly lost a race for mayor. "All he said was that he had an 'interesting relationship' with Michael Bloomberg," whispered one student during a brief break.

The title of Green's seminar is "Behind Government: Personality as Policy," and the assigned reading for the day was Joe Klein's admiring portrait of Bill Clinton's presidency, The Natural.

"This is a little pop psychology, I admit," Green told the class a few minutes into his lecture. "But we all understand what IQ is—some people are pretty smart. And other people have high EQs. And what's an EQ?" he asked the class. A young man with curly hair raised his hand and gave the correct answer. Emotional quotient, he said, "is when you connect with people on a gut level."

Diagnosis: Failure to connect
file photo: Cary Conover
Diagnosis: Failure to connect


See also:
Your Turn: Farewell, Liberal Friend
Last words, anyone, for candidate Green?

"That's exactly right," said the pleased professor, explaining to them that connecting with people is something very, very valuable in politics.

Mark Green's many campaigns came to a close on primary night last week in a cramped and narrow tavern on Murray Street in Lower Manhattan. Decorated with ale signs, a Van Morrison poster, and a dartboard next to the door, the spot had been chosen in hopes that a small crowd would look bigger to the cameras. While the election ended a 25-year career in politics, the decision itself didn't take long. Less than an hour after the polls closed, with about half the votes counted, the Associated Press declared Cuomo the winner with 52 percent of the vote to Green's 33 percent. A short while later, Green arrived on Murray Street, where his diehard fans were gathered, pulling up in a white van. He conferred briefly with campaign manager Mark Benoit and election lawyer Jerry Goldfeder and then pulled out a cell phone and called Cuomo with his congratulations.

Green stood on the sidewalk under a street lamp in a dark suit, his head bent to the phone and his ever recognizable shock of white hair glowing in the light. Behind him, a half-block away, was City Hall, where five years before he had fully expected to serve as mayor until the September 11 attacks turned the city and its politics upside down. Before that, he had served two terms as the city's Public Advocate, and he had also come close in elections for the U.S. Senate and Congress. The races had made him one of the city's best-known politicians. Maybe too well-known. For in spite of his much acknowledged energy, intelligence, and accomplishments—he is the author or editor of 21 books, as he has often noted, their subjects ranging from business monopolies to consumer rights—there is something about Mark Green that never clicked with the voters of New York. Worse, there is something that really ticked them off.

That held true among liberals as well, even though, since the death of Bella Abzug, Green has been the city's leading progressive figure. His most recent book, written and pub-lished as he waged his last campaign, was called Losing Our Democracy: How Bush, the Far Right and Big Business Are Betraying Americans for Power and Profit. That had been preceded by a 2004 bestseller, The Book on Bush: How George W. (Mis)leads America, co-authored with Nation columnist Eric Alterman.

Mark Green: still youthful at 61 years old, ever upbeat despite his many losses, always thinking ahead of the curve. Mark Green: as incorruptible as any politician of his time; willing to take on any issue he believed in, be it police brutality, mob garbage haulers, or big tobacco; ready to battle bullies far bigger than himself, from Al D'Amato to Rudy Giuliani. Mark Green. There was something about him voters didn't like. Sometimes it wasn't hard to figure out why.

Earlier on primary evening, Green had stood at a subway entrance on 9th Street in Park Slope, trolling for a last few votes in a bright white shirt with rolled-up sleeves and a loosened tie.

"You've always reminded me of Bobby Kennedy," an awestruck middle-aged man said as he stuck out his hand.

Green beamed. "I used to be called the Jewish Bobby Kennedy," he replied.

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