Grumbling at Green


There’ve been 10 days of heavy grumbling and griping among Mark Green’s erstwhile supporters since the liberal icon went along with Mayor Giuliani’s demand for three extra months on the job. And like any major disappointment in life and love, a single regret illuminates the memory of scores of other defects, all once considered insignificant but which now loom as unforgettable and unforgivable. Green’s political gaffe with Giuliani (even the candidate finally acknowledged last week that his move had been “politically hurtful”) has people expressing, many for the first time, their annoyance at everything from his hair to his posture.

Defections by these disgruntled Greenies alone may be big enough to hand defeat to the guy who once single-handedly forced a U.S. Senate ethics investigation of Al D’Amato.

So, the least a newspaper that urged its readers to vote for Green in the primary can do is provide a guided tour through the arguments and explain why, at the end of the day, some of us are sticking with him anyway.

First things first. When Rudy Giuliani demanded an extra 90 days in office, Freddy Ferrer stood tall, and Mark Green pulled an el foldo. It’s as simple as that, right?

Well, not quite. If you’re going to slam Green for going along with Giuliani, then it’s at least worthwhile to take a hard look at how Ferrer handled the matter. Unlike Green, who made an almost snap judgment, responding to Giuliani in less than four hours, Ferrer took his time. Although he later said he had decided the issue in his own mind as soon as he left the meeting with the mayor, he waited until late the next day before announcing his decision. In fact, he waited until after Green made his own announcement, thus clearing the way for his stand for, as he put it, “the majestic principles of democracy.” Ferrer knew his decision was in sync with the black and Latino voters whose ballots had pushed him into first place on primary night. And having scored an anemic 7 percent of white voters in the primary, Ferrer also saw an opportunity to haul in a large catch of disaffected liberal Green supporters.

For most pro-Ferrer and pro-Green voters, the subtext of giving Giuliani additional time in office was that it would mean that much more in the way of repressive, anti-poor policies. But it’s worth noting that Ferrer himself never said a word out loud about that. In a speech the next day, the Bronx borough president hailed Giuliani as “a shining example of what it means to be a leader in times of crisis.” He added, “I did not say no to the mayor. I said yes to democracy.”

That wasn’t all Ferrer said. In lieu of the extension, Ferrer offered Giuliani the job of running the multibillion-dollar reconstruction agency, a post that packs enough potential clout to make Robert Moses drool. Giuliani declined, as Ferrer surely assumed he would. But if the central objection to giving Giuliani more time in office was that he would continue his anti-minority, anti-labor ways, why try to have it both ways by offering him even greater power in your administration, a post that would make Giuliani into a kind of shadow mayor, haunting whoever held City Hall?

Right, but none of that explains why Green caved in the first place.

The bottom-line reason why Green went along with the man he had spent the prior seven and a half years criticizing appears to be this: He wanted to. Ever since he entered the race, mainstream media pundits have labeled Green a wild-eyed radical posing as a moderate, an ultraliberal politician who shouldn’t be trusted with the levers of power. Now, in the midst of the city’s greatest crisis, he had what he perceived as an opportunity to prove himself responsible.

And despite all the talk that the city can do just fine without Giuliani and his crew come January 1, there are real reasons to make sure that there is what Green later dubbed “a seamless transition.” For one thing, come the general election on November 6, the entire current administration is going to be outtahere, headed for whatever new jobs they can find. And as tempting as it may be to say, “good riddance,” whoever wins that election is going to need a lot of support from the outgoing upper- and middle-level administrators, particularly given the immense rebuilding tasks ahead and the now far more complicated intertwining between city and federal assistance in the wake of the September 11 attack.

The most troubling aspect of Green’s mistake—and that’s what it was—is that he failed to consider the extent to which his decision would alienate the blacks (he took 35 percent of that group, polls showed) and Latinos who had voted for him. What does that say about him? It certainly mixes things up, but it shouldn’t outweigh the extensive work he did as Public Advocate, critiquing Giuliani’s budgets and exposing discriminatory police practices.

I’m not convinced. Green not only broke faith with those of us who voted for him on September 25, he willingly ceded additional power to Giuliani.

Well, how about this one. The extension was clearly not ideal from Green’s perspective, but it was better than the alternative Giuliani was threatening to pursue. The mayor’s demand was this: Give me three months or I’ll run against you on the Conservative Party line. This threat was made less than 24 hours after more than 40 percent of Democrats voting in the primary had told exit pollsters that they would throw the lever for Rudy if he were on the ballot. That’s just Democrats talking. And it came while Giuliani’s approval ratings are at 90 percent.

Clearly, his potential for mayhem in the November general election was massive. Some leading assembly Democrats believed that even if they refused to lift the term-limits injunction, Giuliani might still try to place his name on the ballot. Giuliani has since dropped that threat. But if he’d succeeded and won the most votes, what then? Would it have been a battle between the Expressed Will of the People in 2001 versus the Expressed Will of the People who approved term limits in 1993 and 1996? Anybody hear the words “constitutional crisis”? With Giuliani in his caudillo mode, anything looked possible.

That threat has since abated. But what would have been worse for poor and working people in New York? Three more months of Giuliani or four more years?

Calm down, none of that had a chance of happening. Even Ed Koch opposed the extension idea. That’s why he endorsed Ferrer.

Actually Koch didn’t publicly say a word about the extension until after both candidates had announced their decisions. But he had already given his opinion about a third term for Giuliani—and he was adamantly in favor of one. “I don’t see any reason why people can’t write Giuliani’s name in on the ballot,” he said on national TV on September 19. When people suggested it would be difficult to get legislative approval, given that voters had twice endorsed term limits, Koch dismissed the objections. The day before the rescheduled primary, Koch told the Associated Press, “The state legislature is like a magician. They can do anything they want. . . . They can find a way to put him on the ballot in the general election.” At the same time, Koch was blasting Ferrer for running a “race-conscious . . . us-against-them” campaign. But a week later, the same man marched into Ferrer headquarters and announced how appalled he was at Green’s decision to give Giuliani a longer transition. Perhaps Koch just dislikes Mark Green more than he is distrustful of Ferrer. But being Ed Koch means never having to worry about being consistent.

Well, Koch isn’t the problem. Your candidate is.

Right. But you know what? People make mistakes. Making this the deciding issue in the election means tossing out a lot of other factors that still weigh heavily in Green’s favor. Of the two Democrats, he is still the one who is—thus far—unbought and unbossed, the least connected to the inside dealers, the power brokers even now swirling around looking for a landing place in the next administration.

Mark Green is still the one with the 30-year history of sticking up for the little guy, of smoking out the influence of the big-money boys, the one who is such a policy wonk on federal government that he’ll be best equipped to win the support the city is going to need. Does it mean we want to have a beer with him? Nope. We don’t even have to like his posture.