Take It or Leave It, Mark Green


Can Mark Green win back the hearts and minds of black and Latino voters?

If the shunned Democratic mayoral nominee wants to atone for participating in the most divisive political campaign since Ed Koch’s 1988 assertion that Jews would be crazy to vote for Jesse Jackson, he must bow to a list of six conditions, the Voice has learned.

These conditions are contained in a strongly worded letter that Brooklyn assemblyman Roger L. Green, the powerful chair of the state’s Black, Puerto Rican, and Hispanic Caucus, quietly dispatched to Mark Green four days after the bruising October 11 runoff.

Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, Roger Green’s choice for mayor, narrowly lost; partly because Mark Green operatives—fearing the city’s Public Advocate might lose—shamelessly appealed to white New Yorkers’ anxieties about police protection and economic survival in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. In retaliation, Green has been treated like a pariah in black and Latino communities.

On the one hand, Roger Green’s letter, published here for the first time, reads like a black politician’s indictment, charging that Mark Green betrayed African Americans and Latinos. On the other, it’s a take-it-or-leave-it challenge to a Democrat some blacks are calling a turncoat liberal. The Voice obtained a copy shortly after the assemblyman, Al Sharpton, and Bronx Democratic County boss Roberto Ramirez stormed out of an October 19 unity rally that concerned Democratic Party officials had hastily organized to hype Ferrer’s surprise endorsement of Green. In the letter, Roger Green refers to the six conditions as a “bill of particulars that could address the growing divisions that threaten the political solidarity within the Democratic Party and social solidarity of our city.” This is what he says Mark Green should do:

  • “Apologize for those remarks that you made which were associated with the Happy Land fire, and which were perceived as devaluing the lives of victims and the suffering of families connected to this tragedy.
  • “Disassociate yourself and your campaign from anyone involved in the construction and promotion of negative advertisements that demeaned the competence and character of Mr. Ferrer’s leadership.
  • “Disassociate yourself and your campaign from anyone who participated in the racial denigration of Mr. Sharpton during this campaign.
  • “Support the appointment of a Latino as the next New York State Democratic Party chair.
  • “Support a person of color as the next speaker of [the] New York City Council.
  • “Support the [gubernatorial] candidacy of [African American state comptroller] H. Carl McCall.”

Mark Green’s dream of occupying Gracie Mansion may hinge on the political stock he places in the assemblyman’s solution for healing the widening rift between the “Two New Yorks.” But Mark Green may decide it’s not worth it because Sharpton wants political revenge for portraying him to moderate white voters as the Osama bin Laden of New York.

“I am going to the Wailing Wall to promise God that I will not support Mark Green for mayor,” Sharpton vowed before departing for the war-torn Middle East last Saturday.

When Al Sharpton bounded off a hotel podium packed with high-ranking Democrats two weeks ago in downtown Manhattan, he was visibly disgusted by their lukewarm condemnation of the right-wing tactics Mark Green had resorted to in order to defeat Fernando Ferrer in the mayoral runoff.

Hot on Sharpton’s heels was former jailmate and political gadfly Roberto Ramirez. But as Sharpton raced to a back exit—muttering invectives, swearing to God that neither Mark Green nor the Democratic Party would embarrass him ever again—a voice called out to the civil rights activist, “Al! Al! Al!” On the fourth appeal, Sharpton spun around. He came face to face with Roger Green, his critic during the Tawana Brawley fiasco, who had become a close ally in recent months. Green began to console the whipping boy of the radical populist right, whom candidate Green had been reluctant to chastise.

Tears that had brimmed in Sharpton’s eyes after he watched Ferrer’s feeble embrace of his former rival, gushed as he stared at the sallow-faced Green.

“Do you believe this mess?” Sharpton asked.

“Unbelievable,” Green replied. “That in there was unbelievable, Reverend.”

As both leaders headed toward the lobby, Green whipped out a copy of the October 15 five-page letter he had written to Mark Green. Like many disillusioned African Americans, Green struggles to redefine the once vaunted liberal. “What are you?” the assemblyman asks Green in the letter. “Progressive? Neo-liberal? Neo-conservative? Conservative Democrat?”

In the letter, Roger Green expresses his “disappointment with the tactics and tenor” of Mark Green’s campaign. This race for Gracie Mansion, he complains, “took on the characteristics of racial insensitivity, racial divisiveness.” According to him, the views that he has so carefully outlined in the letter, regarding Mark Green’s behavior during the campaign, “are now widely prevalent within the African-American and Latino constituency of the Democratic Party.” Green, he contends, derailed an effort by grassroots voters to “build a coalition of conscience around a progressive political agenda that transcends race and ethnicity.”

In damning detail, he revisits Green’s attacks on Ferrer. He begins by recalling the October 7 televised debates, in which Green belittled and blasted Ferrer for mentioning the city’s 1977 blackout and the Happy Land Social Club fire that killed 87 people in the same context as the September 11 terrorist attacks. “To compare this catastrophe, the mass murder of 5000 people, 100,000 jobs lost, $100 billion hit in the economy, to the Happy Land fire, and the blackout of 1977 . . . shows a lack of appreciation of the magnitude of the economic impact, the safety impact, and the federal impact,” Mark Green said.

Roger Green argues that “there is no evidence” that Ferrer made the comparison. “[M]any African-American and Latino voters have concluded that your statement was a calculated attack that was intended to reinforce the cynical manipulation of a New York Times editorial that inferred that Mr. Ferrer was ‘borderline irresponsible’ for having the temerity to suggest that some areas outside of the financial district should serve as host for the recovery effort,” the assemblyman writes. “The unintended consequence of this demagogic tactic extends beyond the arena of electoral politics and public policy. I believe your statement, taken in context with your negative advertisements, raises some serious questions about your commitment to social solidarity. By driving a calculated wedge between the surviving families of the World Trade Center [disaster] and the Happy Land fire, you unwittingly devalued those human lives touched by these tragedies and enthroned a mean-spirited moral relativism.”

What impact might such a message have on whites? “I . . . fear that this misguided attack may give some the impression that suffering associated with a tragedy, which occurred in a borough that is predominated by African-Americans and Latinos, can be marginalized and dismissed for the sake of one’s political ambition,” Green notes. In Mark Green’s desperation to win, the assemblyman charges, he ignored “the historic importance” of Ferrer’s campaign to African Americans and Latinos.

“By engaging in an orchestrated attack on Mr. Ferrer’s competence, your campaign stimulated fear among some white voters who still harbor doubts about the leadership skills of African American and Latino elected officials,” Green states. “In addition, your condescending criticisms and negative advertisements [about] Mr. Ferrer betrayed the aspirations and ideals of a growing African-American and Latino electorate which has supported your numerous elections, including [to] the Office of Public Advocate. Be advised that most Latino and African-American voters viewed these attacks as a disrespectful condemnation of our collective character.”

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of Mark Green’s campaign was his “repeated attacks” on Ferrer’s “Two New Yorks” theme, Roger Green points out.

“As an elected official who has had the opportunity to work with you toward the identification and resolution of problems facing ‘the other New York,’ I believe your attacks were divisive and disingenuous,” Green writes. “Your numerous publications, including reports issued by your office that have underscored the abuse and mistreatment of New Yorkers [by] the city’s police department, provide overwhelming proof that there are communities throughout this city who have been deprived of basic justice and have suffered from economic and social isolation.”

In the letter, Green, who is chair of the Assembly Standing Committee on Children and Families, cites “empirical evidence” that there are two New Yorks: “By the end of 2001, New York City will have an additional 32,000 children designated as orphans because of the HIV/AIDS crisis. More than 89% of these children are African-American and Latino children.”

Because of Mark Green’s credentials as an outspoken liberal, black politicians like Roger Green had “assumed” that the wannabe mayor would “align [himself] with Mr. Ferrer’s theme, which sought to eliminate those fissures that have created the reality of two New Yorks.” As Green explains it, “We had some expectation that your self-avowed progressive identity would have inspired you to express political solidarity concerning those divisions that exist in this city.” That would have been the right thing for the Great White Hope to do. But he did nothing.

“Many members of the Latino and African-American community believe that you and other leaders of the Democratic Party, who profess to be ‘progressive,’ have a moral responsibility to articulate the differences that surround the lives of those children born and raised in the South Bronx as compared to the lives of children born and raised in the Yorkville and Turtle Bay neighborhoods of the Upper East Side of Manhattan,” Green maintains. “When you charged that Mr. Ferrer was being ‘divisive’ for truthfully articulating the unfortunate class and racial differences that continue to trouble this city, you squandered an ideal opportunity to build a coalition of conscience across racial and ethnic lines that might address those pressing issues facing future generations and the next mayor of our city.”