It’s Mean Mark Green: Former Front Runner Jostles Freddy Ferrer

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A photo of candidates Ferrer and Green, as badly scanned from The Observer of Oct. 15, 2001.

Immediately after Mark Green’s disappointing second-place finish to Fernando Ferrer in the Sept. 25 primary, the Green campaign headquarters was in deep despair. Recriminations flew. Staff members were replaced. Then things really went downhill. A combination of missteps (Mr. Green’s much-criticized assent to Rudolph Giuliani’s plan extending his term for three months) and eye-catching endorsements of Mr. Ferrer (District Council 37, the United Federation of Teachers, former Mayor Ed Koch) over the next several days left the Green campaign reeling.

In the days leading up to the Oct. 11 runoff, however, something has happened: Mr. Green has stopped affecting the persona of a gracious victor-in-waiting, reverting instead to form, as a professional critic. For the first time since the beginning of the 2001 Mayoral campaign, Mr. Green launched a series of broadsides against his opponent. At the same time, Mr. Green’s surrogates have pounded Mr. Ferrer over everything from his economic-recovery plan to his record on abortion and the death penalty.

A new, mean Mayoral candidate Mark Green has emerged, and he’s bent on one simple goal: to make Mr. Ferrer unelectable. “Mark finally stopped the cautious front-runner thing,” said one Green operative. “It would have been nice to waltz into Gracie Mansion without any negative campaigning, but I think everyone realizes this is now trench warfare.”

Bill Lynch, a key advisor to Mr. Ferrer, told The Observer that Mr. Green’s late offensive is the result of panic, and that the nastiness emanating from the Green campaign may even include dirty tricks. “I think it’s a desperation move,” said Mr. Lynch. “It’s not an unusual move-when candidates feel their campaigns are tanking, they usually go to doing negative advertising or negative campaigning.”

Mr. Lynch warned that Mr. Green’s assaults on Mr. Ferrer could hurt him among minority voters. “The question is, does he so alienate his African-American voters and the small number of Latino voters he got with this kind of campaigning that they leave him for Freddy? I think that’s the risk he takes.”

Mr. Lynch also suggested that Green supporters have been distributing a controversial Sean Delonas cartoon that appeared on Page Six of the New York Post that depicted Mr. Ferrer, on his knees, kissing the rear end of a grotesquely obese Al Sharpton. “I’m not saying that Mark is passing it out, but I’ve got to assume that supporters of his are the ones doing it. I would hope Mr. Green would denounce it if he had anything to do with distributing it in the community.”

Of the cartoon, Joe De Plasco, Mr. Green’s spokesman, said, “We don’t sketch New York Post cartoons; they’re done by the New York Post. If they have problems with cartoons in the New York Post, I suggest they call the New York Post. All this whining from the Ferrer campaign is getting a little tiresome.”

Mr. De Plasco also denied that Mr. Green is acting out of any sense of desperation. “Bill [Lynch] knows better than this,” Mr. De Plasco said. “The trend is towards Mark. People are coming into the Green camp because they know that this is a critical election, and that Mark Green has the best plan to lead the city through what will be a difficult time. As for the statement about alienating Mark’s minority supporters, Mark has a long record of accomplishment working with and for African-Americans. Personally, I find it unfortunate that anyone would think that issues relating to public safety, to our economy and to this terrible crime against our city do not affect all communities in our city equally.”

Turning Up the Heat

The new attack strategy represents something of a correction for the Green campaign, which was widely panned before the primary for being flat and uninspiring. The resulting lack of excitement, and the widespread impression that the four Democratic candidates were nearly identical, are now thought to have contributed to an exceptionally low turnout among supporters of Mr. Green.

“Up to now, it wasn’t a debate,” said Democratic consultant Norman Adler. “The candidates all sounded alike-only their accents were different. Voters need a message, and Mark’s message before the primary was ‘Vote for me; I’m winning.’ By making Ferrer’s competence and ability to govern the issue, he’s sending a message to his voters that there is something really big at stake.”

With Mayor Giuliani no longer an alternative, and with the winner of the runoff facing the novice Republican candidate Mike Bloomberg in the Nov. 6 general election, Mr. Green has the opportunity to galvanize his voters. He spent the entirety of two recent televised debates talking down to, or over, Mr. Ferrer. He has whipped the business class into a panic by denouncing as folly the Bronx Borough President’s proposals to disburse federal recovery money for the World Trade Center attack to the outer boroughs. And he has rolled out a chorus of law-and-order tough guys like former Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, former head of emergency management Jerry Hauer, and Eric Adams, an advocate for black police officers, to talk about the scary and dangerous place that New York would become under a Ferrer administration.

Liberal champions like former Governor Mario Cuomo and Representative Jerrold Nadler also have taken Mr. Ferrer to task for changing his position on capital punishment. And on Oct. 9, the Green campaign released an attack ad-the campaign’s first-which elevated Freddy-bashing to new heights by calling Mr. Ferrer “borderline irresponsible.” A public-safety commercial featuring the Uniformed Firefighters Association and the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association-both of which have endorsed Mr. Green and are in exalted positions in the wake of Sept. 11-can’t be far behind.

At the same time, the Green campaign was overhauling its field operation. After Sept. 25, they replaced the campaign staffer in charge of turnout in Manhattan, Mr. Green’s home borough, in which he beat Mr. Ferrer in the primary by a mere percentage point. The campaign will have a much more active get-out-the-vote operation than before the primary, when, fearing criticism for insensitivity in the wake of the attacks, it allowed Green strongholds to go unattended while “1199 for Ferrer” placards were plastered all over the Upper East Side.

And while the Ferrer campaign achieved outstanding results by focusing its canvassing efforts in the pro-Freddy bastions of the Bronx and Latino upper Manhattan, the Green campaign was targeting areas in Brooklyn and Queens that also drew voters for Peter Vallone and Alan Hevesi, the other two Democratic primary candidates, as well as Mr. Ferrer.

It remains to be seen whether Mr. Green’s souped-up campaign will be enough to slow Mr. Ferrer’s run at City Hall-frequent assertions by pundits that Mr. Ferrer has “momentum” seems to have created a momentum of its own. And a number of other factors will undoubtedly work in Mr. Ferrer’s favor. For one, Mr. Green will have to depend upon a patchwork coalition of unions and county organizations to counter union powerhouses like D.C. 37, Local 1199 and the U.F.T., whose field workers and phone banks have enormous voter pull. For another, public polls continue to indicate that Mr. Ferrer’s supporters are far more enthusiastic about the race than Mr. Green’s, which makes them likelier to show up to vote on Election Day.

It also remains to be seen whether Mr. Green’s assaults on Mr. Ferrer’s credibility, as well as his charges that Mr. Ferrer has run a racially divisive campaign, will undo the good will among whites that Mr. Ferrer has earned from heavy buys for television ads featuring the likes of Mr. Koch, former Senator Pat Moynihan and City Council Speaker Peter Vallone. Meanwhile, the level of tough talk emanating from the warring Democratic camps is escalating. After the Mario Cuomo endorsement in a City University of New York auditorium, a group of firefighters in dress uniforms and emergency workers in windbreakers lingered around the podium to pose for pictures. Pat Bahnken, the head of the city Emergency Medical Services workers’ union and a supporter of Mr. Green, was asked for his take on the election.

“Mark Green is going to win because the United States is at war, and public safety is going to be the key issue in this election,” he said. “Mark has guys like Jerry Hauer and Bill Bratton to deal with these issues, while Freddy’s talking about appointing panels to discuss what to do. It’s a load of crap. We don’t need someone to think things over-people are dying, and I have a feeling that’s what’s going to happen if Ferrer becomes Mayor.” And Mr. Ferrer, who had limited his initial response to Mr. Green’s increasing bellicosity to indignant comments (“I like the old Mark Green,” he said after one heated debate), now appears to be joining the fray in earnest. On Oct. 9, the Ferrer campaign dispatched former Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger and former Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro to Green headquarters with instructions to “blast Green’s new 11th hour negative attack ad.” In addition, the Ferrer campaign just released a new commercial denouncing the Green attacks.

For Mr. Green, the recent combativeness of the race seems to suit him just fine. On Oct 9 he was campaigning in the middle of his home turf, shaking hands at a subway stop at 77th Street and Lexington Avenue, now covered with Green posters and volunteers handing out Green palm cards. Asked for a prediction, he said: “I think Freddy is fading in the last week. The tide is turning.”