The Giuliani Dilemma


When Mark Green arrived at Rudy Giuliani’s West Side emergency command post last Wednesday, a little after 5 p.m., he didn’t know why the mayor, who’d once barred him from a seniors’ center, was suddenly asking him to come to an urgent private meeting. He also didn’t know that he was just three hours away from a defining moment in a two-decade career in New York politics, one that would test his will and his wisdom more than any challenge he’d confronted in the largely powerless public posts he’d held for the last 12 years.

Green was with two of his young and centrist policy-wonk aides—38-year-old David Eichenthal, the longtime $117,000-a-year chief of staff in the Public Advocate’s office, and Jeremy Ben-Ami, 39, a recent arrival from the Clinton administration who’s quickly assumed a pivotal, at-Green’s-side role in the campaign. They were asked to wait outside while Green was ushered in for a five-minute, face-to-face exchange with the man whose handling of the city’s worst crisis has made him an overnight international icon.

Giuliani had spent eight years spitting in Green’s direction, even putting a wildly unsuccessful charter proposal on the ballot in 1999 to bar Green from succeeding him. The abuse wasn’t just historical—only two days before, a Giuliani aide had complained to the Times‘ Jennifer Steinhauer that Green “had not attended enough planning meetings” since the World Trade Center attack and that he’d “fiddled with his Palm Pilot during one”—charges that a Green spokesman angrily rebutted.

The mayor himself said on Tuesday—just as Freddy Ferrer and Green were placing first and second in the Democratic mayoral primary—that “some” of the candidates had been “helpful” in the crisis and “some have not,” promising to rate them in the near future. His aides simultaneously whispered to the Times that it was Green who would soon be skewered.

A stinging Post gossip item the same day, inspired by the mayor’s aides and contending that Green had left the Saint Patrick’s memorial service early to schmooze with cops, raised Green camp fears about an orchestrated tabloid blitz that could cripple him in his October 11 runoff with Ferrer. Giuliani was already so petty and aggressive that he even managed to find time in between funerals and death-toll briefings to personally call his former emergency services chief, Jerry Hauer, and blast him for appearing at a Green press conference announcing a new, post-WTC security plan for the city.

That was the baggage Green brought to the meeting, where the mayor quickly got to the point. He wanted an extension of his term. He wanted the three candidates still in the race—including Republican nominee Michael Bloomberg—to agree to take office in April or so, which would also mean they’d support state legislation to change the mandatory January inauguration date.

The emergency required it. Unifying the city required it. A “seamless transition” required it. The fact that such an extension had never been granted anywhere in America was not mentioned as either an obstacle or a motive—though it was unmistakably both—and the two instead talked about details, as if this “indispensable man” exception were reasonable on its face.

The candidate for mayor who had turned his “no one has stood up to Rudy more than me” boast into a campaign chant was being asked to step aside for him. The white candidate who’d just won 35 percent of the profoundly anti-Giuliani black vote was being asked, less than 24 hours after the primary polls closed, to give Rudy part of the mayoral term they’d offered him. The Naderite founder of the Democracy Project was being asked to suspend it.

Indeed, the lifelong smartest kid in the class was being told that someone else could do the job he coveted better until things got back to normal. He was being told that a man whose budgets he’d assailed in annual press releases would shape his for the first year and a half of a prospective four-year term. He was being robbed of the right to create and set in motion the reconstruction mechanisms that would bring this city back at a cost greater than the annual budget, even though he alone among the candidates had announced a plan to do it, albeit a sketchy one.

Green left the bunker quickly, considering the request, consulting Eichenthal and Ben-Ami. It was getting close to sundown on Yom Kippur, a solemn High Holiday. He went to synagogue and a family meal, where he discussed it with Stephen Green, his multimillionaire Republican brother and major fundraiser, Mark’s conduit to the city elite. He made a few calls, though he won’t say to whom. He did not call the out-of-town David Dinkins, a top supporter who’d been through two mayoral transitions, his conduit to black voters. He called Rich Schrader, his campaign manager, and Bill Bratton, the former police commissioner, his conduit to white moderate voters. Schrader, who is Green’s most liberal adviser, was amenable to the mayor’s plan; Bratton, who saw Giuliani up close in lesser crises, won’t say what his advice was.

Green also reportedly called powerful Albany insider Denny Farrell, a backer who chairs the Assembly Ways and Means Committee, to check out what was plausible at a state level. Green told the Voice he wanted to call Speaker Sheldon Silver but felt “inhibited” by the holiday and Silver’s Orthodox seclusion. Silver had already been in the news that day—telling reporters that Giuliani had called him just hours before summoning Green and asked him to push a bill repealing term limits through the assembly. Silver’s statement had left the door on repeal slightly ajar, enough to give Giuliani’s proposition a carrot/stick allure: “Give me three months, or I’ll take four years” was the implied message.

Giuliani had tried to get the City Council to repeal term limits the week before, with mayoral aides Joe Lhota and Josh Fuller calling councilmembers and business leaders to push for it. On Friday, when even the sponsors of an earlier repeal effort, like councilmembers Stan Michels, Bill Perkins, and Guillermo Linares balked, the bill never even came to the floor. At the same time, Lhota and company were also pressing Governor Pataki to postpone the September 11 primary to buy time for either a two-year extension of Giuliani’s term or a term-limit repeal. They were also rallying their tabloid allies—and reaching out to business leaders like Real Estate Board president Steve Spinola, developer George Klein, and sporting goods kingpin Mitchell Modell—to push decision makers.

While Green pondered, Giuliani confirmed his conversation with Silver at a press briefing, saying the repeal was “possible.” He also revealed that he’d met with two candidates, was waiting for the third, and had offered them a plan that he said “has nothing to do with me.” He said he wouldn’t detail it until after he’d completed the conversations with the candidates. But he did make clear that the plan related to the complexities of power transfers and the need for more time. He said he’d been through three transitions himself, suffering under their calendar constraints.

He claimed he’d gone through the Gerald Ford transition in 1974, after Richard Nixon’s resignation, when actually he didn’t take office as associate deputy attorney general in the Justice Department until one year after the new Ford team came in, according to Harold Tyler, the official who hired him. He also said he’d gone through the Reagan transition, though his nomination was held up by Senate Republicans over questions about his handling of a prior federal probe until May 1, 1981, five months after Ronald Reagan took office.

Strangely enough, Green edited a 1992 book about the Clinton transition and wrote an introductory essay with 10 strategies for doing one, including the admonition “Any political leader has to let his or her natural adversaries know that he or she stands for something and won’t be rolled.” In the 1992 book called Changing America and published by the Citizens Transition Project, Green wrote that “a progressive president needs to choose a major moment to stand on principle,” a call whose echoes hung over Green now at this gut-check, transitional moment.

The exit polls from the primary two days earlier also were hanging over him. They showed that 41 percent of the Democrats who voted were prepared to vote for Giuliani in November if he were on the ballot. It was a number that made Green insiders sweat. Belying it was the fact that less than 2 percent of Dems wrote in his name and that 80 percent voted for Green, Ferrer, or Alan Hevesi, each of whom had run with strong anti-Giuliani credentials of one sort or another. But from Green’s perspective, he was wrestling with the dark dilemma that if he didn’t give Giuliani a small slice of his term, he might not have one at all.

He says now that he reached the conclusion three times to turn Giuliani down, but decided in the end to join Bloomberg, who had instantly agreed. At 8:25 that night, he called Joe Lhota, adding that he “expected” that since he was acting “in the spirit of nonpartisan unity” that the mayor would “bring the same spirit” to the extended transition period. He says that though Giuliani’s entire governmental history demonstrates a wholesale inability to share power with anyone, he did not make this mutual nonpartisan hope a condition because “this was no time to dicker.” He insists that despite his acquiescing to this plan, he still believes that he “would be the best person to take the city through those three months,” a perplexing claim since his only defense of the deal is that it’s best for a city in turmoil.

Asked, for example, if he thought Giuliani should pick the site for the city’s next emergency command center over the next few months, Green told the Voice: “No. There are a hundred issues that he and I could have a different perspective on, and I believe he should generally not be making decisions that bind us.” Aware that Giuliani told the Times over the weekend that he was already searching for a site, Green said that Rudy’s “last decision about the 7 World Trade Center site turned out to be flawed.” Giuliani spent $15 million constructing a supposedly “impenetrable” center on the 23rd floor of the WTC, even though the towers next to it had already been bombed. The center was never used during the attack and quickly obliterated.

Green’s only explanation for agreeing so quickly to the Rudy proposal—though Giuliani pondered his options for at least a week—is that “when I make my decision, I give my answer.” He talks about how soundly Harry Truman slept after dropping the first A-bomb. He says, “Executive authority is about thinking through a decision and moving on,” all the while concealing much of the process that led to it. A top aide, more accurately, said Green rushed to “assure the mayor, make the mayor comfortable,” a disquieting priority to many of his backers.

Fernando Ferrer arrived at the command center around 9 p.m., unaware that Bloomberg and Green had already accepted the mayor’s extension proposal. He was with Bill Lynch, the former Dinkins deputy mayor, Ken Knuckles, a Columbia University vice president who had once been Ferrer’s top deputy in the Bronx, Luis Miranda, a onetime Koch aide who’d chaired the Health and Hospitals Corporation under Giuliani, and Roberto Ramirez, the ex-assemblyman who runs the Bronx Democratic Party. Lynch, a lightning rod for the mayor, left to avoid setting off sparks. Ramirez stayed in an outer room while the other three talked to Deputy Mayor Lhota and Chief of Staff Tony Carbonetti for an hour.

Ferrer says he pressed the Giuliani aides about the preliminary budget, which would be put together and announced during the extra three-month transition, and all Lhota would say was that Ferrer’s administration “could always change it” after they got in that April. They offered him no role in shaping it, warning that without this extension Giuliani’s key people would leave immediately. Ferrer recalls telling Lhota that the mayor’s proposal “assumes that none of the candidates are up to the job,” a gut response that would become his campaign refrain.

Giuliani finally came out, and Ferrer alone was ushered in for what he estimates was an hour-long conversation, the longest by far he’d ever had with Rudy. While Ferrer will not discuss the exchange, he did say that Giuliani told him Bloomberg and Green had already agreed. He also mentioned that he might seek a term-limits repeal if this idea failed. Ferrer left Giuliani uncertain about what he’d do, asking questions, maintaining his familiar skeptical squint. He immediately met with Miranda and Knuckles, who had also been a Dinkins commissioner, soliciting the advice of the two seasoned City Hall aides.

Though he says now that he made “a preliminary decision as he was walking out of the command center,” Ferrer was in no rush, gave it “serious consideration,” and met the next day with Lynch, Ramirez, Knuckles, campaign consultant David Axelrod, top staffer Alan Cappelli, and others. He talked to Al Sharpton and Charlie Rangel by phone, who strongly urged him to reject the proposal. He took a call from Richard Grasso, president of the New York Stock Exchange, who urged him to agree, apparently prodded by the mayor. Unlike Green, he says he did not attempt to find out what Silver or the assembly leadership might do with the extension or term limits, apparently undaunted about the prospect of facing Giuliani in November.

By mid afternoon on Thursday, Ferrer was getting calls from top donors and fundraisers, most of whom were urging him to accept the deal. By 6 p.m., he had released a statement. He said he was “deeply concerned about the precedent” set by Giuliani’s proposal, adding that “for centuries, we have made orderly, constitutional transitions of government,” even in time of crisis. He said “the functions” of government Giuliani was seeking to retain “should be undertaken by the newly elected mayor.” He offered to make Giuliani the chair of his recovery authority.

Ferrer’s split with Green on Giuliani was the best evidence of his campaign theme—there are “two New Yorks,” even within liberal Democratic circles. Ferrer relied heavily on black and Latino advisers with substantial mayoral experience, Green on technocrats with no mayoral experience and his own, establishment-tied family. Ferrer had no holiday excuse for delay and outreach, but he took his time anyway, uncowed by the restless and waiting Giuliani; Green virtually speed-dialed the mayor despite his holiday inhibitions.

Ferrer’s decision has, at least temporarily, silenced Giuliani, a bully in visible retreat once confronted. It has also rallied Ferrer’s minority support, with the Black, Puerto Rican, and Hispanic Legislative Conference, chaired by Brooklyn assemblyman Roger Green, adamantly opposing any extension. Fueled by the denunciation of the Giuliani gambit as a “dangerous idea” by the Times editorial page on Friday, and the praise of columnists Pete Hamill and Jimmy Breslin, Ferrer has begun using his Rudy rejection as a measure of his strength and Green’s weakness.

Declaring that he is “not an apprentice,” Ferrer told transit workers on Friday: “You are either ready or you are not. If you can’t deal with a crisis that you can see, how can you deal with one you can’t anticipate? I am ready. There are only two kinds of people— stand-up people or sit-down people.” By Saturday, he had ratcheted it up another notch, asking, “Why is a candidate wasting the time of the electorate if he is not ready for a crisis?”

Green’s response has been to ridicule Ferrer’s attempt to link the rebuilding of the Bronx with the reconstruction of the financial district and to point out that Ferrer has issued no plan yet for reviving downtown. As meaty as these criticisms may be, they are also a transparent effort to sidestep the frontal assault Ferrer is now making on Green’s character. Ferrer has turned his isolation from elites, fearlessness of tabloids, connection to a core constituency, and savvy street smarts into political capital in a race against a man whose desperate need to win this job has disoriented him.

No one knows who will vote in a Democratic runoff. It’s been 24 years since we’ve had one for mayor. But we do know it will be core Democrats, even more so than in the recent primary. We know that Latinos sense their first real opportunity to take power in this town. We know that the specter of Rudy is still driving black voters, and many liberal whites who once backed Green. We know that if Rudy takes the Conservative Party ballot line before the runoff—when he must decide under current law—he will drive the moderate white vote down, convincing some to wait and see if he can qualify for November.

Green started the year the favorite to win, softened his image, and captured the Times, without his numbers ever changing. The Mark Green who made himself the alter-Rudy over many years is now positioned to run as his implicit partner, prepared to share power with him, chasing Vallone Democrats. It may be one chameleon change too many for Democrats who remember Giuliani before the planes hit, and can’t imagine him as the leader who could actually steer a united city through any part of the next four years.