News & Politics

Mark Green’s Three Questions

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This morning’s Democratic attorney general candidates’ debate had the feel of a poker game where all the cards were on the table—or at least Mark Green’s cards were—and everyone was just waiting for him to throw the good ones. Yet somehow the New York City Bar Association event went into its final two minutes before Green tossed his tried-and-true trump cards (criticisms of the HUD 203k program and Elliot Spitzer’s lawsuit against HUD’s pesticide practices) and his new ace: the Voice story about Andrew Cuomo’s links to Andrew Farkas, a financier whose company HUD sued for shortchanging tenants, and who then employed Cuomo.

Sure, there were apparent allusions to Green’s charges earlier in the debate, like when Cuomo said he had “negotiated billions in settlements from hundreds of companies throughout the U.S”. (Wayne Barrett’s piece says the settlement that Farkas’s firm agreed with the feds “allowed the company to complete a billion-dollar sale of its residential portfolio only five days later.”) Sean Patrick Maloney recycled his line about feeling like a “UN peacekeeper” on the same stage as Cuomo and Green. And Green fired his low-caliber and familiar criticisms that Cuomo left the Manhattan DA’s office too early and knew more about housing than law enforcement.

But it was only during his closing statement—after Cuomo and Maloney had delivered their own—that Green dropped the big ones. Because Cuomo had only agreed to two debates, with today’s the second one, “I have to take the debate to him,” Green said, and that meant asking “three questions.” One, why did the New York Times call Cuomo’s 203(k) HUD mortgage program “a fiasco”? Two, what about the Voice claims that Cuomo was cozy with a “slumlord” (Green’s words)? And three, how about the suit by Spitzer and other attorneys general claiming that HUD wasn’t following a federal law to reduce pesticide use?

Green obviously hoped to have the last word, a little like smacking your schoolyard enemy in the mouth right before hefty Mrs. Kobuski separates you and sends you to the principal’s office. But the moderators gave Cuomo a minute to respond, so he ripped into Green, saying that Green would “go down in the books” as one of the nastiest negative campaigners of all time, a guy who’d attacked Geraldine Ferraro and Chuck Schumer, and who in 2001 ran in New York City a mayoral race that was “one of the most divisive in modern political history.” When it came to the facts of Green’s assertions, however, Cuomo said he “can’t go through the facts—they’re distortions.”

Green tried to interrupt Cuomo (to a few hoots from the crowd) then demanded time to rebut Cuomo’s rebuttal. When he got the mic, Green accused Cuomo of responding to “policy criticisms” with a personal attack. “Please look at the substance,” Green pleaded to the suit-clad crowd. Outside, standing beside an enlarged copy of the first page of Spitzer’s HUD lawsuit, Cuomo promised that the three questions were “something that will animate my campaign for the last six days.”

Highlights from the rest of the debate included:

  • To a question about whether the AG should continue to traipse on traditionally federal territory when it comes to corporate corruption, Maloney said, “There’s been a small revolution in corporate governance. There is nothing like that level of transparency in state government.” He suggested that rather than strong-arming corporations, the AG should go after the MTA and other public authorities.
  • Green said that restricting access by kids to offensive material on MySpace.com was not his “priority.” Maloney, always quick with a simple one-liner to complex issues, told Green he had to “walk and chew gum at the same time,” and said he wanted to enter into a code of conduct with MySpace and, while he was at it, go after sex traffickers.
  • Green said that getting GE to clean up the Hudson is the biggest environmental issue out there. Maloney said it was the use of eminent domain, which requires “a system that is open, transparent, and fair”—unlike the Atlantic Yards deal. Cuomo believes mercury emissions take the cake.
  • Cuomo, who called Albany’s dysfunction “abysmal,” said he’d use the Tweed Law to fight corruption there, and in so doing generate a groundswell of support for legislative reforms. Green wants a constitutional amendment empowering the governor to appoint Supreme Court judges based on recommendations from a merit panel. Maloney, again, said he wants to go after public authorities, adding, “The things that go on in Albany would make Jack Abramoff blush.”
  • But however corrupt Albany might be, Cuomo and Maloney insisted they’d be loyal lawyers for the state’s power brokers. “You represent the state. You do your job,” Maloney said, comparing the AG’s oath to that of a divorce lawyer. Cuomo said he’d advocate for policy changes based on his beliefs but, once a law is passed, would represent the state zealously unless there were an ethical conflict. Green took a different tack, saying he’d do so unless there’s a “legal, statutory, or moral” reason not to.
  • As in the first debate, everyone loved Elliot Spitzer. Maloney went so far as to say that if elected as AG, he will “work with [Spitzer]’ and “not compete with him.”
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