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

If the probe had been dormant for years, it got busy again very quickly. Several workers in Green's 2001 campaign, who had talked to Hynes's probers years earlier, reported a sudden new round of calls asking them to come in to rediscuss the matter. "I said, 'I told your office all this three years ago,' " said one former Green campaign worker who long ago recounted how he had been asked to have his political club cash a check that he believed might have been used to pay for the flyers.

Like many other Democrats, Hynes has a complicated relationship with the Cuomo family: He owed his 1989 election as D.A. to the favorable publicity he earned as then governor Mario Cuomo's special prosecutor in the Howard Beach racial-attack case, a relationship that later soured when Cuomo—who burned up the phones helping his son this summer—refused to support Hynes's own ill-fated bids for higher office, including a 1994 run for attorney general. But after the Dicker story ran, Hynes gave his old pal's son a huge boost by allowing a spokesman to confirm that his office had a continuing and "uninterrupted investigation" into Green's old political committee.

The announcement, of course, was a potential campaign killer. A would-be attorney general under active criminal investigation? Forget about it. Green's response was to go for broke. He agreed to sit with a battery of assistant district attorneys and answer all of their questions. When the two-hour session was over, Hynes issued a rare public exoneration. He not only stated that Green was "not a target"—the lethal term of art used by prosecutors—but said his office had "confirmed that Green had no knowledge of these events." (The campaign itself was still under suspicion, Hynes said.)

Yet even that statement didn't cut it for some. Harlem's aging Democratic lion, congressman Charles Rangel, let it be known he would "never forgive" Green's alleged antics in 2001. Rangel endorsed front-runner Andrew Cuomo, even though he had bitterly denounced him in 2002 for Cuomo's attempts to derail the gubernatorial candidacy of H. Carl McCall, the first African American to seek the office. The same logic worked for Al Sharpton, who found it in his heart to forgive Cuomo, bestowing a vital endorsement late in the primary, while at the same time taking a swipe at Green.

Oddly, the most disappointing performance by Green in the tumultuous 2001 campaign, a deed that can't be laid at anyone's door but his own, was never even raised this year. That was his startling agreement to Rudy Giuliani's post–9-11 demand for an extra 90 days in office to deal with the recovery from the terrorist attack. Green's decision went counter to everything he had ever preached, a jarring break with the most fundamental premise of elected democracy. Ferrer, a product of the Bronx clubhouse, seemed to understand the stakes better than the Nader-trained Democrat. Ferrer called Giuliani's bluff, and the matter was soon quietly dropped.

But if that lapse opened a window into Green's overwhelming ambition for higher office, it wasn't the one people were looking through this time around. Instead, the sum and substance of most media reports were echoes of the Cuomo camp's mantra that Green was a "perennial candidate" who always ran "nasty" campaigns. When Green questioned Cuomo's failure as a Clinton cabinet secretary to enforce a federal law on pesticide use in public housing—an issue that later led to a 2004 lawsuit against HUD by Spitzer and other state AGs—it was the tone of the allegation, not the specifics, that most media covered. Only the Associated Press and Newsday bothered to detail the merits of the charge.

Nasty? Even though the event was featured on tabloid front pages for days back in 2003, there has barely been a mention this year of Andrew Cuomo's angry split with ex-wife Kerry Kennedy Cuomo, the mother of his three kids and daughter of Bobby. You want nasty? A 2004 follow-up story in the Daily News asserted that Kennedy Cuomo had been forced to go to court to collect child support payments from her ex-husband, a claim Cuomo's lawyers chalked up to a quickly resolved "misunderstanding." No one breathed a word about that, either. (Any bets that Kieran Mahoney, the rough-and-tumble political adviser to Republican attorney general candidate Jeanine Pirro—who has her own heavy marital baggage to overcome—won't find a way to get that subject rehashed in the general election?)

For whatever reasons, the topic never tempted Mark Green. In an interview the night after his defeat, Green ducked questions about what went wrong in this campaign, or the last one. "I'll leave that to smarter, more objective people to figure that out," he said.

Two days later Green called back, asking "for a do-over," as he put it.

"What I wish I'd said was this: I could beat Andrew, but I couldn't beat Cuomo." He had no regrets about having aggressively questioned Andrew Cuomo's public record. He added, "It was always substantive and never personal."

That line could serve as Green's own political obituary.

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