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
“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
“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
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.'”
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
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.
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.”