40 Percent Solution: Mark Green Rushes to Wrap Things Up

Public Advocate Mark Green sauntered along a boardwalk in

Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, on Sept. 4, zigzagging from groups of old ladies in

beach chairs to crowds of Russians dining at the Black Sea–style cafés that

line this stretch of the Atlantic Ocean. “Meet Mark Green, your next Mayor!” a

young campaign volunteer shouted in Russian, as diners looked up tentatively

from plates of blintzes and caviar.

His bum knee causing a tick in his stride, Mr. Green

approached two tourists, who looked up at him quizzically from a boardwalk

bench.

“We’re from Seattle,”

one informed him.

“You’re from Seattle?”

Mr. Green asked. “Well, you’ve just met the next Mayor of New York City.”

For more than a year now, Mr. Green has been sounding this

refrain, often sounding so cocky that his own advisers have visibly cringed.

Now, however, on the eve of a Democratic primary in which he is the

front-runner, Mr. Green’s exhortations are beginning to sound less like a boast

and more like a mere statement of the obvious.

But Mr. Green and his aides still face a thicket of

strategic choices as they prepare for a possible runoff for the Democratic

nomination and a general-election campaign in which he may face free-spending

Michael Bloomberg as the Republican candidate. Mr. Green’s aides seem uncertain

how to deploy their two top supporters, former Mayor David Dinkins and former

Police Commissioner William Bratton, without alienating key constituencies. It

remains unclear how they would handle a runoff in which turnout

becomes a major wild card. They are faced with the defection of black voters

who are drifting toward Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer ever since his

recent endorsement by Reverend Al Sharpton.

And they face the same question that has always hovered over

Mr. Green: How does he translate name recognition and general popularity into

votes?

“Mark Green’s support has been based primarily on a general

impression resulting from a lot of years in public life,” said political

consultant Norman Adler. “He has always run the risk that, when voters paid

attention and knew the names of the other candidates, that

they would leave him. The big question mark is, will

Mark Green be able to translate familiarity into voter loyalty?”

Mr. Green is likely to fall short of winning 40 percent of

the vote on Primary Day, which means that he will face a runoff two weeks later

against the second-place finisher. And that could be fraught with peril as Mr.

Green faces not a crowded field, but a single candidate around which his

opponents could rally. Mr. Green, a longtime critic of the powerful who has

never had much in the way of real power himself, has seen his hopes for gaining

real influence slip away before. As a candidate for the U.S. Senate in 1998, he

polled high at the outset because of name recognition, but his support quickly

dribbled away and he ended up suffering a lopsided defeat in the Democratic

primary.

There is no real road map for Mr. Green’s advisers. The last

Mayoral runoff was a generation ago, in 1977, when Ed Koch and Mario Cuomo

faced each other in a now-legendary contest. The city and the electorate have

changed a great deal since then, so Mr. Green (and his opponent) will be flying

blind as they try to figure out the most important question in the runoff: Who,

exactly, will show up to vote-again? “There’s a limited history to determine

what turnout will be,” said Hank Sheinkopf, Mr. Green’s media adviser. “There’s

no way to guess what will occur.”

That’s a daunting prospect, but not nearly as daunting as it

seemed two weeks ago. The man most people figured to be Mr. Green’s most

dangerous opponent in a runoff, City Comptroller Alan Hevesi, has stumbled

badly in recent weeks, and some observers think he might not get into a runoff.

More important, the endorsement of The

New York Times -a kind of establishment seal of approval-makes it unlikely

that the city’s most powerful institutional players will coalesce around Mr.

Green’s runoff opponent in an anybody-but-Mark

movement. The endorsement also gave him a boost with moderate, largely Jewish

voters who were leaning toward Mr. Green in the first place, but harbored

worries that he would revert to the Mark Green of 1980-the eternal Nader’s

Raider-once he was elected.

“A lot of moderate and

liberal Jews wanted to go for Green, but they were worried about it,” said Evan

Stavisky, a Democratic consultant. ” The

Times effectively said to these

people, ‘It’s O.K., Mark’s not that scary.’”

The Times

endorsement is an enormous coup for a man who has never had much support from

the city’s political, financial, labor and media establishment. Hence the jubilation of his advisers, who erupted into backslapping

and high-fives when they first heard the good news via a telephone call from a Times reporter on the morning of Sept. 1

as they gathered at a campaign event in a church. (The endorsement ran

the following day.)

The Ferrer Factor

Mr. Green, of course, is touting his Times endorsement in mailings and broadcast ads. But his aides are

being careful about how they handle some other endorsements. Mr. Ferrer,

enjoying a bump in the polls since winning the support of key African-American

leaders, has begun bashing Mr. Green for accepting the support of Mr. Bratton,

charging that Mr. Bratton supports racial profiling. Meanwhile, Mr. Green has

the support of Mr. Dinkins, still an icon among many African-American voters

but considered a pariah among voters who would be impressed with the Bratton endorsement.

Mr. Green has taken care to tout the support of Mr. Dinkins selectively, using

it in targeted radio ads and mailings, but not in television ads that would

reach a broader audience. Although the campaign has footage of Mr. Green with

Mr. Dinkins, his advisers have yet to indicate whether they will turn it into

an ad in the campaign’s final days.

Then there’s the small matter of the general election. Mr.

Hevesi has been hinting that if he loses the Democratic primary, he may run in

the general election on the Liberal Party line (which is what Mr. Cuomo did

after losing the Democratic runoff to Mr. Koch in 1977, and what John Lindsay

did in 1969 after losing the Republican primary to John Marchi of Staten

Island). If Mr. Hevesi continued an active campaign as a Liberal,

he could siphon away votes from Mr. Green, making Mr. Bloomberg-assuming he

defeats Herman Badillo in the Republican primary-that much more formidable.

Most observers, however, think Mr. Hevesi won’t go it alone

as a Liberal candidate in the general election. Even some Liberal Party

officials are resigned to that prospect.

“Unless Hevesi comes in

strong in the Democratic primary, I would expect that he would run a

non-campaign as a Liberal,” said a top Liberal Party official. “Why expend all

the energy, time and money? Plus he would make the Democratic Party very angry,

and his future in the party would be in question.”

What’s striking about this election season is the ease with

which Mr. Green became a front-runner-and the fact that few people seemed to

notice what he was doing. While the electorate slept and the political press

obsessed over the wealth and dating habits of Mr. Bloomberg, Mr. Green stuck to

a simple formula. In addition to winning the endorsements of Mr. Bratton and Mr.

Dinkins, his advisers targeted a huge swath of southern Brooklyn populated by

Caribbean and Russian immigrants-new arrivals who have unformed alliances and

may be turning out in huge numbers due to so many competitive City Council

races.

Mr. Green’s success is just one facet of a campaign that has

confounded all expectations. He started out with the assumption that he would

never gain support from the city’s institutional players-his advisers took

special care to tell reporters that the power elite of the city no longer

elected Mayors-but then he surprised everyone by winning the support of The Times . Mr. Hevesi, by contrast,

built his campaign on the idea that he was the establishment favorite, then faded precisely because he could never quite line up

those powers behind him. Council Speaker Peter Vallone, who often seems

hopelessly parochial, was supposed to fade from view six months ago; instead,

he has been surprisingly energetic, successfully wresting the Giuliani mantle

from Mr. Hevesi, and still has a shot at making the runoff.

In this confusing and unpredictable environment, one factor

is looming larger than others in the strategic calculations of all the

campaigns: voter turnout. For Mr. Green in particular, this stage of the

campaign has been complicated by Mr. Ferrer’s recent success with black voters.

Turnout Strategies

Unlike Mr. Green, Mr. Ferrer will be able to employ a

straightforward get-out-the-vote strategy. He has a built-in constituency in

the city’s Latino community, although the size of the Latino vote remains a

mystery. This is why estimates of Mr. Ferrer’s support have swang wildly from

poll to poll-because pollsters have no consistent idea how much of the Primary

Day electorate they can assume will be Latino. The Ferrer campaign will also

seek to identify and turn out the 135,000 blacks who voted for Al Sharpton in

his 1997 Mayoral bid.

This is where life gets complicated for Mr. Green. His

approach to turning out his supporters in the minority communities, by

contrast, will have to be more nuanced, because he will have to be careful not

to pull Ferrer voters to the polls. His manpower will have to be deployed in a

discerning way, electoral district by electoral district-targeting elderly and

middle-class black voters who identify more with Mr. Dinkins than with Mr.

Sharpton, as well as voters in Caribbean neighborhoods

who are more conservative than American-born blacks. Hence the special

attention paid by Mr. Green’s advisers to the long-neglected southern tier of Brooklyn.

Making the racial calculus more complex, it now seems

possible that Mr. Green will be facing Mr. Ferrer in a runoff. A Quinnipiac

University poll released on Sept. 4

put Mr. Ferrer in first place, with 28 percent of the sample. Previously, polls

put Mr. Ferrer’s support in the mid-teens. If Mr. Ferrer defies expectations

himself and winds up in the runoff, the main question will be: How does race

play? Mr. Ferrer has already made it clear that he won’t hesitate to assail Mr.

Green’s new law-and-order stance to weaken his support among blacks. How will

Mr. Green respond when Mr. Ferrer plays the race card during the runoff?

“The challenge for Green in a runoff with Ferrer will be to

hold on to the African-American votes that put him in first place, without

jeopardizing his ability to attract Vallone and Hevesi votes that will be up

for grabs,” said Mr. Stavisky. “He’s got to be able to build a coalition to the

right without losing his base on the left.”