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

Another commuter shook Green's hand and said shyly that he had met with the candidate some 30 years ago, when Green was running one of Ralph Nader's advocacy organizations in Washington. He assured Green that he had his vote, but at the corner the voter paused. "I agree with his politics," he told a reporter. "But what I remember about that meeting was that he seemed most interested in showing me this book he had just written. It's too bad. He's just a little too full of himself."

It's more than too bad. Of all the offices Mark Green sought during his political career, the one he lost last week was probably the one he was born to hold. He dubbed himself "the people's lawyer" during his campaign, and it wasn't far from the truth. As outgoing attorney general and incoming governor Eliot Spitzer demonstrated, the job can be a freewheeling one, a Public Advocate with subpoena power. As the city's commissioner for consumer affairs under David Dinkins, Green got federal regulators to shut down clever tobacco ads like "Joe Camel" aimed at hooking a new generation of smokers, removed cigarette vending machines from public places, pushed to get the morning-after pill tested, and even spotlighted how the advertising industry stereotyped minorities as athletes or musicians. Later, as the city's first Public Advocate, he defined what the office could be, despite its thin resources. He got hospitals to adhere to new rules for rape victims, used the courts to force Giuliani's police chiefs to give up disciplinary files on problem cops, and fine-tuned the city's cam paign finance laws.

Green's watchwords, he wrote in an introduction to a compendium of accomplishments compiled for the campaign, were that of a former professor at his alma mater, Harvard Law School, that "those less favored in life should be favored in law."

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?

Another commuter who encountered Green's outstretched hand on his way home said that was the approach that drew him, as a college student, to volunteer in Green's 1980 congressional race. "He was one of those Nader Raiders, smart, passionate, articulate. He had this dry wit that got him in trouble sometimes," said Dan Katz, now a college history teacher. "He can rub people the wrong way, but the good work he does outweighs all that."

Those with a direct stake in this year's race appeared to think so as well. A woman emerged from the subway wearing an ID tag identifying her as an employee of the New York State attorney general's office. "I'm for you," she murmured to Green. How many in your department feel the same way, the candidate couldn't help asking. "Everyone," she answered. "Everyone I know in my bureau is hoping you'll win."

The funny thing—comical really, even though it's sad—is that the joke is on us. Nobody likes the smartest kid in the class who's always reminding you of the fact, and there's a natural suspicion of someone like Green who manages to maintain his tan no matter the season. But ultra-sophisticated New Yorkers, who sneer at red-state simpletons gulled into voting against their own interests and for the likes of George W. Bush because of that earnest and macho thing he's mastered, just as quickly fall victim to the same inclin- ation to choose form over substance in their own voting booths. When it comes to matching Andrew Cuomo's everyday-guy persona against Green's wonky achievements and often lonely stands, there's no contest.

"Mark Green? Yeccch! Do I have to?" read an e-mail last month from an ultra-liberal friend seeking advice on how to vote in the primary. "I get it all the time," said a West Side activist who has been with Green in every election. "People say—and these are smart, involved people—'Enough of him, already.' "

There are, of course, the principled opponents, those who cite the Green campaign's use of an incendiary flyer circulated in white Brooklyn neighborhoods in the tense 2001 mayoral primary runoff as the main reason they can never support him. Green quickly denounced the flyers, publicly calling them racist, even though they consisted of a reprint of an offensive New York Post cartoon depicting rival Fernando Ferrer kissing the butt of a balloon-sized Al Sharpton. The cartoon was the kind of thing the Post regularly delights in, suffering no apparent backlash as a result.

Green has always denied any knowledge or involvement in that scheme, but Cuomo's troops, according to reporters in the city's newsrooms, did all they could to spark a new round of media inquiries.

In an NY1 interview this summer, Green was foolish enough to say that he believed a criminal inquiry into the matter by the office of Brooklyn District Attorney Joe Hynes—allegedly concerning campaign misexpenditures—was over. The last public reference to the investigation by Hynes was in 2004, when his office said it would await the outcome of a campaign finance board audit of Green's spending (the audit was issued early this year, without mention of outstanding issues).

But no sooner had Green said he thought the probe was finished than the Post reignited the story. "Not so fast," wrote state political reporter Fred Dicker, citing Hynes sources that the investigation was still under way.

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