Only a dozen or so years ago, Mark Green was the very personification of an unrepentant 60’s liberal. Forever tilting at windmills, constantly identifying new grievances, eternally assured of his own righteousness, Mr. Green seemed destined to grow gray in a tie-dyed shirt. He seemed to prefer the easy agitation of the press conference to the grunt work of serious governance, and the admiration of the Nader’s Raiders crowd to the respect of the political professionals who actually get things done.
But now, after spending the bulk of his life as a political outsider and professional critic, Mark Green is on the verge of succeeding Rudolph Giuliani, his polar opposite in so many ways, as Mayor of New York. There is little doubt that he will emerge on primary night, Sept. 11, with the most votes for the Democratic nomination. The only question is whether Mr. Green gets the 40 percent he needs to win the nomination outright, or whether he finishes first but is required to face the second-place finisher in a runoff two weeks later. No matter what you think of Mr. Green, you must admit that his journey from forever-young agitator to middle-aged respectability is astonishing.
Astonishing, that is, if age truly has prompted genuine wisdom, and if Mr. Green really does understand that the city he proposes to lead can ill afford a return to the discredited policies of the past–policies, it seems fair to say, that the Mark Green of yesteryear surely applauded.
The question of the hour, then, concerns the many faces and many sides of Mark Green. Since he emerged, surprisingly, as the front-runner for the nomination, Mr. Green has chosen his words very carefully–a task that required no small amount of self-discipline. He has tried to mollify the leftist-liberals of New York who wish him to be the second coming of John Lindsay, with handouts for unions and feel-good appointments from the racial-preference hiring hall, while sending centrist signals to level-headed, outer-borough Democrats concerned about public safety and education, and rightfully suspicious of Manhattan liberals with a weakness for social engineering.
Who, then, is the Mark Green of 2001? Is he the Mark Green who has the endorsement of former Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, the Mark Green who understands that New York is, in fact, governable? Or is he the Mark Green who cheerfully accepted the endorsement of his former boss, David Dinkins, whose name remains attached, Hoover-like, to a time of misery and discouragement?
All the other unanswered questions in this undeservedly mocked political season–who will finish second to Mr. Green on Primary Day? Can Michael Bloomberg win the Republican nomination and mount a serious general-election campaign?–are peripheral to the question of who Mark Green is today.
If he remains, in his heart of hearts, the Nader’s Raider of his youth–a class warrior who will raise taxes to support a restoration of New York’s welfare city-state, an ideologue whose knee jerks when demagogues play the politics of race and grievance–then he will be a disaster as Mayor. From the soaring, sunlit years of optimism under Mr. Giuliani, New York will quickly retreat to a bitter valley of fear and contraction.
If Mr. Green faces a runoff for the nomination, it’s a good bet that his opponent–likely to be either Council Speaker Peter Vallone or City Comptroller Alan Hevesi–will suggest that Mr. Green has not really changed his ways and therefore should not be trusted with a lease on Gracie Mansion, not after all the impressive changes the city has seen in the last eight years.
Mr. Green, however, can easily dispel the questions about his intentions and his commitment to the core issues of Giuliani-era New York: public safety, economic growth, incentives for entrepreneurs in minority neighborhoods, accountability in education. With a few bold statements, he can assure New York that being on the inside–first as Mr. Dinkins’ Consumer Affairs Commissioner, then as Public Advocate for eight years–has taught him something about the complexities of governance. He can pledge that Mr. Bratton will return to public service in a Green administration, perhaps as a Deputy Mayor for public safety and criminal justice. And he can promise to keep Harold Levy as Schools Chancellor. Mr. Levy’s contract expires next June, and those satisfied with the unacceptable status quo would love to see the back of Mr. Levy’s suit, preferably displaying evidence of a well-placed boot. But Mr. Levy’s enemies are just the kind of opponents an effective leader should have, and by pledging to support him, Mr. Green would be sending the right message.
In cold political terms, it probably behooves Mr. Green to remain as unspecific as he can in these last few days of the primary campaign. He is on the verge of a victory that nobody, not even Mr. Green himself, would have thought possible in 1990. From this point on, the political playbook for Mr. Green recommends gauzy salutes to all good things and all fine people.
And that may indeed work. Still, that is a style which Mr. Green surely associates with hack politics, with empty suits who are in the game not to do something, but to be somebody.
September offers Mr. Green a chance to show us a little of the old Mark Green and a little of the new. He can challenge politics-as-usual and defy conventional wisdom by telling us that he has learned from the mistakes of others, that he understands the new imperatives of post-Giuliani New York, that a return to the New York of 2,000 murders a year, high taxes and a languid private sector is unthinkable.
That Mark Green–smart, wise and still capable of breaking the rules–would make one heck of a Mayor.
For Comptroller: Herbert Berman
It is one of the city’s most important but least visible positions: City Comptroller. The holder of that office is responsible for investing and overseeing billions of dollars’ worth of investments, and is charged with the grave responsibility of making sure the Mayor and City Council aren’t cooking the city’s budget books.
With incumbent Comptroller Alan Hevesi running for Mayor, the office is up for grabs this year. Our choice in the Democratic primary is Herbert Berman, a longtime City Council member from Brooklyn and the outgoing chair of the Council’s important Finance Committee.
Mr. Berman is opposed by former Board of Education president William Thompson. As head of the city’s school system, Mr. Thompson was missing in action while the Board’s capital-spending plan ran up cost overruns of nearly $3 billion. This is just the sort of mismanagement a Comptroller is supposed to expose. Mr. Thompson’s performance at the school board does not inspire confidence.
Mr. Berman, on the other hand, understands how the budget works and how the government works. He would bring 26 years of government experience to the job, as well as the knowledge that comes with being a key player in the city’s budget process. His career and interests make him a natural for the job as the city’s chief financial officer.