Mark Green, a Rudy Giuliani in the making, may have replaced the ironfisted Republican mayor as the most hated white man in the African American community.
Last Saturday, I sat riveted to my chair in Al Sharpton’s House of Justice listening to the black activist read the Harlem riot act to the two-tongued Democrat, who many blacks now believe stole the mayoral runoff election from Fernando Ferrer. Sharpton, his jowly cheeks pouted in characteristic bullfrog ire, accused Green of remaining silent while racial alarmists—white editorial writers, columnists, and cartoonists—portrayed him as the man who would be the real power behind the mayoralty if Ferrer were to win.
The day after the election, Green, according to black activists and political leaders, launched a half-hearted attempt to repudiate the Sharptonphobia and reject the racialization of New York. His plea to people close to Sharpton is intended to get the angry kingmaker to put aside hurt feelings and come out in support of him against Republican nominee Michael Bloomberg.
But blacks like me are too traumatized by the racism that Green failed to put in check. We don’t hug and make up that easily, bro. It’s like being raped by a great uncle: You don’t ever want to embrace the scumbag again.
Blacks like me, however, should isolate Green. We should not invite him into our ‘hoods or houses of worship. Avoid him like white anthrax powder.
When I saw my sista friends—the term-limited City Councilmember Una Clarke, and her daughter Yvette, who will take her place—smiling and walking the streets with Green after his tainted victory, I lost it. Why are they, including my brothers—former mayor David Dinkins, Eric Adams of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, and Assemblyman Denny Farrell—still bootlickin’ and buckdancin’ for Green?
Those African Americans—all 29 percent of them who gave Green the edge over Ferrer—should sit out next month’s election in protest. Force Green to rely on the 66 percent of whites and 60 percent of Jews who swept his main African American backer, Dinkins, into office in 1989. Blacks like me, however, should isolate Green. We should not invite him into our ‘hoods or houses of worship. Avoid him like white anthrax powder.
As Al Sharpton whipped the crowd into an anti-Mark Green frenzy—threatening to sit on the sidelines and watch the battle between two Jewish candidates—I felt vindicated.
For several years, long before a politically hungry Sharpton dined on bagels and croissants at Green’s home, I remember warning Sharpton that Green was a phony white liberal who would some day turn against us niggaz. Shortly before Sharpton ran for the Senate in 1993, he and I argued bitterly over Green. I said that the “honky with hubris”—my code name for Green—should not be trusted. Sharpton balked. Such rhetoric, he cautioned, might be construed as racist; I was not to repeat that ugly phrase in his presence.
Sharpton, who boasts it is not in his DNA to be an Uncle Tom, had matured. In the ensuing years, he flatly rejected my “talking black” approach to Green’s brand of liberalism, frowning on epithets he believed to be divisive. I perhaps was the first to realize that the Baptist preacher had had an epiphany about race.
Sharpton later would buy into David Dinkins’s vision of the city as a “gorgeous mosaic” and desire to be part of the ethnic tapestry. He wanted to embrace the two New Yorks—a tactic, he asserted, that would help shed his image as a racial polarizer. He took the high road, cutting a wide swath that seemed to distance him from the racial politics of the past. Suddenly, he was forming formidable alliances with Jewish politicians like former Mayor Ed Koch, who’d heretofore resented his bawdy style of black advocacy, but now touted him as a conciliator.
Mark Green was one of the politicians who began to exploit Sharptonmania. This spring, Green and his wife took Sharpton and his wife to the opening performance of Judgment at Nuremberg, a Broadway play about the Holocaust. At the same time Green was trying to kosher Sharpton, he was riding his coattails to popularity in the African American community. During my in-your-face quarrels with Sharpton over Green, he never once flip-flopped on his opinion that Green was an “inherently decent” individual. In light of Green’s frontline battle to stamp out racial profiling and loud rebuke of brutal cops, Sharpton praised him as a civil rights leader who’d saddled himself with the task of liberating African Americans from Giuliani’s political stranglehold.
But where was Green’s outrage when the bigots were gangbanging Sharpton and the Latino kid who grew up playing stickball on Fox Street?
Al Sharpton’s critics—egged on by Mark Green’s negative eleventh-hour advertising blitz—played on the unfounded fears of whites and Jews; fears that ultimately robbed Fernando Ferrer of his dream of occupying Gracie Mansion. In the run-up to the October 11 runoff, media henchmen with alleged ties to Green or his operatives bombarded Sharpton daily with a barrage of stinking satire that reeked of racism.
The New York Post led the attack. On October 4, the Page Six cartoonist, who’d depicted Sharpton as the master puppeteer and Bozo the Clown, delivered the ultimate insult. A grotesquely caricatured Sharpton had ballooned: The Svengali is bending over backward while the impish, frail-looking Ferrer licks his fat ass. “You’re the best Freddy, the very best!!!” Sharpton responds. Says Ferrer, “Thanks boss.” Two days later, on Page Six, Ferrer, the puppet in the “Al and Freddy Show,” is sitting on the lap of his obese ventriloquist. “Let me assure you that Freddy Ferrer is his own man,” the dummy Ferrer proclaims.
By October 7, the Post’s campaign of denigration had joined Sharpton and Ferrer at the hip in one massive blob. “Sorry Al,” Ferrer says to his Siamese twin, “but if I’m gonna win this election, I’m gonna have to distance myself from you.” On the eve of the election, the Page Six cartoonist drew Sharpton as Fat Albert and a beanpole Ferrer on their knees against a white backdrop, daubing the floor jet black and painting themselves into a corner with their “Two New Yorks Campaign.”
“Now what?” asks Ferrer, glancing at the dumbfounded, farting powerbroker.
Last week, in an indirect way, Al Sharpton unmasked a phony white liberal.
As the audience broke up at the House of Justice, one of Sharpton’s followers pressed a copy of Randall Robinson’s book, Defending the Spirit, A Black Life in America, in my hand. “Read pages five and six,” she said. “When you’re done, come back and tell me that Mark Green is not a closet racist.” In the book, Robinson, the president of TransAfrica, recounts a classroom confrontation he and five other blacks had with Green while they were students at Harvard Law School in the winter of 1967. Robinson writes:
Professor Fried is superciliously droning on in a vaguely British accent about how the visitation of annoying or unpleasant conditions upon a neighborhood (grating noise or belching smoke, for example) can constitute a tort or cause of action for a civil lawsuit.
“Can anyone think of an actionable nuisance we haven’t touched on today?” asks Professor Fried.
“What about black people moving into a neighborhood?” suggests Mark Joseph Green, liberal Democrat of Cornell University and Great Neck, New York.
A thoughtful discussion ensues. Henry Sanders looks at me. We five blacks in fact all look at each other. Our faces betray little. In any case, the privileged young white scholars are oblivious. There are legal arguments to be mustered, pro and con. The discussion of whether or not the mere presence of blacks constitutes an inherent nuisance swirls around the five blacks. We say nothing. We cannot dignify insult with reasoned rebuttal. The choice is between ventilated rage and silence. We choose silence.
Mr. Green does not prevail and is foreclosed from extending his argument. Encouraged, he might have made Harvard Law School a plaintiff in a theoretical nuisance suit against the twenty-five blacks admitted to its class since 1970.
Doubtless Mr. Green will not remember his attempt to expand the definition of nuisance as a tort. Thirty years later I will not have forgotten.
Does this mean that Mark Green harbors latent racist opinions about blacks? I told the Sharpton supporter that Robinson’s story about a phony white liberal speaks for itself.
Additional reporting by Marissa Moss
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 16, 2001