Mark Green just doesn’t get it.
For the first time in the modern political history of the city, the toughest ethical issue facing the front-runner in a mayoral campaign is an all-in-the-family matter. His brother, Stephen L. Green, runs the second-largest commercial real estate business in the city—with 10 million square feet in 25 Manhattan office buildings—giving him a direct stake in an array of development, transportation, tax, and other policy issues facing the next administration. Compounding this inherently incestuous intertwine, Stephen Green raised a record-smashing $672,450 for the campaign—reason enough, minus the family ties, for the public to carefully watch how his interests might influence his brother’s mayoralty.
Yet the two Greens treat press inquiries about their relationship the same way Rudy Giuliani and Cristyne Lategano used to handle questions about theirs. “It goes right up to the line of privacy,” Mark Green told the Voice, ducking one interview and cutting short a second. Stephen Green declined to get on the phone at all, and his secretary said that questions about the publicly traded company should be directed to his brother’s press spokesman—an odd arrangement. While the two sat for a Times interview recently, they said its inquiries about the Green company’s dealings with the city were “unjustified” and “irrelevant.” If there’s a stone wall now in the middle of a competitive race, it will be concrete should the only Green siblings win City Hall together.
Mark now promises “full disclosure” of direct business interactions between his administration and Stephen’s company—which already collects $10 million a year from the city for office space it rents to several agencies. But the candidate had to be forced by The New York Times editorial board to reveal what Stephen raised, after months of hiding behind the facade that he was a “fundraising agent” of the campaign and thus operating beyond the finance laws’ disclosure requirements. Only a Times slap on the wrist could get them to cough up the data.
In any event, Mark Green’s promised recusal and disclosure on future city leases with his brother’s company, which was all he was prepared to talk about during a Voice interview Sunday, hardly begins to address the issue. He insisted, in fact, that “it’s good for the city” that his 63-year-old brother—seven years Mark’s senior—”knows the economy so well” and that, as mayor, he would have such a knowledgeable “intimate” to rely on. He freely told the Times that he consulted Stephen Green when the Giuliani administration considered changing zoning rules to restrict the height of office buildings, apparently oblivious to the interest building owners might have in containing the availability of new space.
In fact, Mark the Candidate has already allowed Stephen to put together his Business Advisory Council, a 19-member group that is helping set the campaign’s economic policies. But Mark the Mayor would have to face the fact that using Stephen as an adviser could create ugly appearance problems and hamper public acceptance of fair yet controversial policies.
Take the Grand Central Terminal area, for example. Asked twice by the Voice if he would consult Stephen on matters that might affect the terminal district, he twice demurred. He said he hadn’t “thought it through thoughtfully yet” and that it was “too early” to do so. While indicating that he “would not discuss anything affecting his property areas” with Stephen, he refused to go into any specifics. “I’m not going to go through 10 issues now,” he bristled, indicating that once elected he’d listen to his corporation counsel and other legal staff on the matter.
But Grand Central is a no-brainer now. Mark’s campaign is being run out of the Graybar Building, Stephen’s flagship and headquarters. It’s one of several buildings Stephen owns that are either attached to the terminal or surround it. Not only is Stephen Green a board member of the Grand Central Partnership, he is the area’s largest property owner. Since March 1998, S.L. Green Realty Corporation has purchased eight buildings in the area, alone or with partners, paying nearly $800 million. The latest buy was as recent as June—the $105 million purchase of 317 Madison, a 22-story tower with direct access to the terminal.
At virtually the same moment that Stephen was closing on the Madison Avenue property, Mark Green was the only mayoral candidate to join a coalition of advocacy groups at a press conference at the terminal championing a $3 billion plan to improve city transportation. Included was a proposed link to the terminal for Long Island Railroad passengers. Other elements of the plan would also affect the terminal district. Mark referred to the MTA’s revenue shortfall at the press conference, suggesting that choices would have to be made among a series of desirable capital options. Would Stephen be a voice to listen to in setting these priorities or, for that matter, any other terminal district issue?
Though the brothers concede that they talk daily about the campaign, Mark says he did not talk to Stephen before taking surprising positions on two key development issues—the expansion of the Jacob Javits Convention Center and the city-subsidized construction of a new stock exchange. Green formally announced his support for the projects—each of which is expected to cost a billion public dollars—in a major economic policy address before the New York Building Congress on May 19, 1999.
At first, Joe DePlasco said Mark had “no recollection” of discussing the issues with Stephen, implying that whether or not they did was of no importance. Pressed by the Voice, the candidate decided they hadn’t talked, adding that Stephen doesn’t “have any particular knowledge or interest in either.” DePlasco insisted that Stephen neither reviewed nor had input in the speech—though it was Mark’s major economic policy address.
Actually, Stephen has stakes in six buildings near Javits that arguably could benefit from the northern expansion that Mark detailed in the plan he offered at a July 17 press conference. The theory of Green’s plan, much like the one offered by the state, is that expansion will vastly add to the overnight convention business that the comparatively small Javits has long been unable to generate, stimulating hotel and other economic development on the west side in the 30s and 40s.
The center currently extends from 34th Street to 38th on Eleventh Avenue, and Mark favors extending it to 42nd Street. Stephen’s buildings include 440 Ninth Avenue at 35th Street, 321 West 44th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues, 1370 Broadway at 37th Street, 469 Seventh Avenue at 36th Street, 1250 Broadway at 32nd Street, and 1466 Broadway at 42nd Street.
The Green company also acquired the first mortgage on 636 Eleventh Avenue (at 46th Street) in 1998 and subsequently lost a bidding war to buy the building out of bankruptcy. A block-long industrial property that Green no longer has anything to do with, it was strikingly out of place among the second-tier office buildings that the company usually controls.
While the potential benefit of Javits’s expansion varies greatly among these properties, all have been purchased since 1998, when the expansion movement began heating up. Some of the buildings—together with several other Green holdings that aren’t listed here—have more of a Times Square aura to them than far West Side, but Mark Green’s Javits plan explicitly links northward expansion and Times Square. In opposing the southern expansion to the low 30s favored by the Giuliani administration, Green said his proposal would “prompt developers to erect hotels much faster and in much greater volume” because of 42nd Street’s “proximity to Times Square and the midtown core,” precisely where many of Stephen’s properties are.
Two months before Mark announced his support for the stock exchange deal—the biggest giveaway of direct city and state subsidies ever—Stephen acquired 90 Broad Street, a 25-story office building and parking lot far away from Green’s usual midtown fixation yet adjacent to the proposed exchange site. The company had already acquired another building a few blocks away—17 Battery Place. Green has been the building’s manager since 1996 and he bought it in 1997, when his brother first indicated that he supported the concept of a subsidized exchange. Late last year, the company sold both properties as part of a self-described repositioning in favor of midtown, buying new buildings on the west and east sides and the terminal area with the profits from the Wall Street sales.
There is no indication that Mark Green’s endorsement of these projects had anything to do with his brother’s interests. But their juxtaposition makes them perfect examples of why the candidate owes the public a clear statement now of just how insulated he plans to be from his brother’s helpful advice. In both instances, Green plunged ahead to champion enormously costly pro-business extravaganzas, pitting himself against his mentor Ralph Nader on the exchange deal and community groups on Javits, without doing the serious policy work that is the norm for him.
His Javits report, issued by the Public Advocate’s office rather than his campaign, echoed the findings of hired-hand consultants who travel the country making the same grandiose revenue projections for every city or state that wants numbers to justify billions in stadium or convention-center expenditures. Green’s staff did not even meet with Javits’s neighborhood opponents, talking to them by phone a few days before the recent press conference (and not at all when he backed it in 1999). Green never reached out to the academic critics of these boondoggles, who can trot out example after example of how wrong the hocus-pocus consultants have been, starting with the predictions before Javits was built.
Green’s support, however, seems far more likely to have been linked to his budding relationship with the Hotel and Restaurant Workers than with his brother. Local 6 gave Green $1000 two days after the speech in 1999, and the Hotel Trades Council, a related umbrella union organization, kicked in another $1000 eight days after the speech. The union’s lawyer, Vincent Pitta, immediately began bundling contributions for Green, raising $2750 in June and July 1999 and giving another $2500 himself this March. The two union committees reached the $4500 legal maximums in June 2000, while another local that’s part of the trades council maxed out in 1999.
The two committees nonetheless tried to give another $9000 this May, but the campaign had to return the gifts because they exceeded the limits. In August, shortly after the Javits press conference, the committees gave another $2200 apiece, this time legally because the donations were earmarked for the runoff. A few days before the press conference, a state committee of hotel workers, also chaired by Local 6 and HTC president Peter Ward, maxed out at $4500.
Ward, whose multiple committees have made him one of Green’s largest donors, is a co-chair of the Hudson Yards Coalition, a business-labor group pushing the Javits expansion. Both Green and the union agree that they’ve certainly discussed it. In addition, Local 6 hosted a press conference at its headquarters with a half-dozen unions endorsing Green in May. Some of the business leaders in the coalition with Ward, like developer Lew Rudin and family, have also made large contributions to Green ($6500), as has Larry Silverstein ($1500), whose site near 42nd Street would have to be acquired for the project.
As disturbing as this confluence of money and policy is, it’s par for the political course, the sort of nexus Mark Green used to rail against. On the other hand, the cloud that hangs over Stephen Green’s interests and influence is anything but ordinary. Neither is it inconsequential that Stephen Green is, by his brother’s description, a conservative Republican on economic issues, whose partner in one recent real estate deal was the Carlyle Group, the Washington equity fund that employs George Herbert Bush, James Baker, and a half-dozen other GOP powerbrokers.
The only prior sign of Stephen Green’s politics was his quiet emergence in 1991, when he headed the Property Tax Fairness Coalition, a real estate group opposed to city tax hikes. And now, Mark Green, unlike two of his Democratic primary opponents, resolutely opposes tax increases, even calling for a pro-business cut, though faced with daunting deficits. Mark denies any linkage between his brother’s and his own tax perspective, but is it just a coincidence that they are sounding more and more alike?
Mark Green has long had a Mr. Clean reputation, just like the incumbent mayor did before running an administration compromised by insider lobbyists and self-serving patronage. Green has yet to say one word about ethics in the campaign, refusing to set any standards for conduct, apparently because he believes he embodies the best standard himself. The public is entitled to know what he will do about core ethical questions and reforms before he takes office—not when it’s too late to say he hasn’t gone far enough.
Research assistance: Douglas Gillison, Gregory Bensinger, Brian Bernbaum, Lisa Schneider, Shonna Carter, Joey Fiskin, Anna Levine
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 21, 2001