In the 23 months since Michael Bloomberg snatched the Mayoralty away from a front-running Mark Green, the Republican billionaire has quietly grabbed hold of something else: Mr. Green’s core of political support.
Many of Mr. Green’s most prominent backers, his biggest donors and even his top campaign workers now say they admire the otherwise-unpopular Mayor. Former Governor Mario Cuomo, who starred in Mr. Green’s television advertising campaign, called Mr. Bloomberg “spectacular” in a recent interview. Richard Schrader, the respected Democratic consultant who’d managed Mr. Green’s campaign, told The Observer he’d consider voting for Mr. Bloomberg in 2005. Mr. Green himself has been saying nice things about his former rival.
It’s no secret that Mr. Bloomberg has spent the last two years learning to be a politician. If his constellation of newfound supporters is any indication, maybe the politician he’s learning to be is … Mark Green. In fact, many of Mr. Green’s friends and allies say they’ll try to deter the 58-year-old former Public Advocate from another run for Mayor in 2005.
“What’s the rationale for Mark Green running again?” asks John Mollenkopf, a political scientist at the CUNY Graduate Center who sits on the advisory board of Mr. Green’s think tank, the New Democracy Project. “If Bloomberg is doing a lot of things his supporters like, it undercuts his rationale.”
From key appointments to policy decisions, Mr. Bloomberg has emerged as a favorite of Mr. Green’s liberal Manhattan world. As Mr. Bloomberg’s original supporters-Rudolph Giuliani loyalists in the white middle class of Staten Island, Queens and South Brooklyn-desert the Mayor in droves, a small cadre of Green loyalists has been running in the other direction.
Now Mr. Bloomberg stands on a base of support as narrow as Manhattan itself, popular among a small, educated, mostly white elite, while potential Democratic challengers-including Mr. Green, who says he’s mulling a rematch-prospect for support in the outer boroughs.
“His performance and style have created a political version of ‘Trading Places’-call it ‘Trading Bases,'” Mr. Green wrote in a recent e-mail, after much back-and-forth over the right metaphor. “He’s gained some liberal voters who think he’s better than they feared and lost some Brooklyn-Queens ‘Giuliani Democrats.'”
Mr. Bloomberg is an unlikely standard-bearer for the liberals who supported Mr. Green. Mr. Bloomberg spent his time in the private sector making money, then spent a bit of his money getting into politics; Mr. Green had written books and op-ed pieces condemning the impact of big money on politics and public policy.
Mr. Green now runs the New Democracy Project, a small policy institute housed in a midtown building which his brother, developer Stephen Green, owns. He recently put the finishing touches on his latest book, The Book on Bush: How George W. Is (Mis)Leading America . Co-written with commentator Eric Alterman, it will be published in January by Viking-Penguin.
When Mr. Green slid into a booth for breakfast recently at Andrew’s coffee shop around the corner from his office near Grand Central Terminal, he was still in the gracious-in-defeat mode he adopted nearly two years ago. The waitress brought him fried eggs instead of scrambled, toast instead of an English muffin, and no silverware. “No problem,” he kept telling her. When the conversation turned to his onetime opponent, Mr. Green took a similarly forgiving line.
His biggest criticism of Mr. Bloomberg is that “he put partisan politics in front of the interest of the city” by not confronting the budget crisis more forcefully during last year’s gubernatorial election. That move spared Mr. Bloomberg’s fellow Republican, George Pataki, some hard questions as he campaigned for a third term. Mr. Green also said he would have relied more heavily on an income-tax hike instead of an 18 percent increase in the property tax. But he thinks Mr. Bloomberg did the right thing in raising taxes, and that the Mayor generally deserves some praise.
“He’s done better than the polls would indicate,” Mr. Green said. “He’s been, by and large, a liberal on certain social issues and a bottom-line manager on fiscal policy.” Mr. Green added with a grin: “His best move was figuring out how to take away some of Giuliani’s security detail.”
Some of Mr. Green’s onetime supporters were more effusive in their praise for Mr. Bloomberg.
“I give Bloomberg an ‘S.’ It’s not for ‘satisfactory,’ it’s for ‘spectacular,'” said Mr. Cuomo. “Unless you show me what you would have done different or better, how can I give him any less?”
As for Mr. Green: “I like his book and I did a blurb for it, and I supported him and he supported me, but in every campaign it has to start with issues, not personalities,” said Mr. Cuomo, who is on the advisory board of Mr. Green’s New Democracy Project.
The S-word comes up again with Lloyd Kaplan, a City Hall aide in the 1970’s, now a public-relations man who gave Mr. Green’s campaign $4,500 days before the 2001 election. “Bloomberg’s done spectacularly well,” he said.
“If Mark was to run for Mayor again, I think each person who supported him in the past would have to look at the situation anew,” said Andrew Rasiej, the chairman of an Internet music company who gave $3,250 to the Green campaign and is also on the think tank’s advisory board. “I don’t think anybody would vote for Mark as a vindication of the past.”
Jerry Skurnik, a Democratic political consultant and close watcher of voting patterns, also sees a shift among many of Mr. Green’s core supporters. Mr. Bloomberg, he said, “has picked up the white voters who voted for Mark Green.”
A combination of personalities and policies are pushing Mr. Green’s supporters into the Mayor’s camp. Several of Mr. Bloomberg’s top aides could have been at home in a Green administration. Mr. Bloomberg’s City Planning Commissioner, Amanda Burden, is a close ally of Mr. Green who was initially appointed by him to the City Planning Commission when he was Public Advocate. Ms. Burden, as well as Bloomberg Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff and Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo, gave thousands of dollars to Mr. Green’s campaign; the city’s technology chief, Gino Menchini, and the commissioner of homeless service, Linda Gibbs, also contributed.
“I give him the highest marks for attracting a lot of very good people to come to work for the city,” said lawyer Lawrence Buttenweiser, the Green campaign’s finance chairman.
“These are the kind of people you could see in a Green administration-including all of the deputy mayors,” said Mr. Schrader, Mr. Green’s former campaign manager, who is now a private consultant. “I like Bloomberg,” Mr. Schrader added. “I could vote for him.”
Mr. Bloomberg’s communications director, William Cunningham, attributes the shift to the Mayor’s performance. “What you have is people who might have backed the nominee of their party, but who like the job the Mayor is doing,” he said.
The problem is, some of the things that warm the hearts of Manhattan liberals have a rather different effect on the rest of the city’s residents. Take Mr. Bloomberg’s battle this year to close six firehouses, most of them in Brooklyn.
“I applaud his courage in trying to close some of the firehouses, which is very unpopular but is quite necessary,” said Mr. Buttenweiser, who gives the Mayor generally mixed reviews but said Mr. Bloomberg is doing far better than he expected. But the firehouse closings-pitched as a move to rationalize city government-triggered outrage and bitterness in the neighborhoods they served.
Manhattan liberals like Mr. Bloomberg’s moves to protect city services, including his choice to raise $1.7 billion in annual property taxes. The tax hike struck less deeply at the pockets of people who own condominiums and co-ops, and it prevented deep cuts to the social programs that make New York’s generosity the pride of its liberal elite.
“In the relationship between taxes versus cuts, he’s acted like a liberal Democrat,” said Doug Muzzio, a professor of public affairs at Baruch College. “It probably doesn’t look different from a Mark Green administration in terms of the overall emphasis of taxes versus service cuts.”
But the tax hike infuriated middle-class homeowners-voters who were at the core of the coalitions that elected Ed Koch and Mr. Giuliani. And Mr. Bloomberg’s hard line with the municipal labor unions cost him support from that sector. A focus on technocractic innovations, like the non-emergency telephone number 311 (initially a proposal of Mr. Green’s), haven’t resonated with potential voters.
Mr. Bloomberg’s low polls have a handful of Democrats considering a challenge in 2005, and Mr. Green said that he’s one of them. “I’m going to look at Mayor or [State] Attorney General [in 2006]-I haven’t decided, and I don’t have to decide now,” he said. Comeback Mayoral victories are nothing new-Mr. Giuliani’s election in 1993 after his loss in 1989 is the most recent example-but Mr. Green faces lingering liabilities from his racially charged run-off victory over fellow Democrat Fernando Ferrer. Now, if he runs, he’ll have to battle Mr. Bloomberg to regain his own base-a fight no politician wants.
Besides, as Mr. Green knows from experience, popularity among the liberal Manhattan elite isn’t enough to get you elected Mayor. And there’s at least one well-educated Manhattan Democrat who said he won’t cross party lines to vote for Mr. Bloomberg in 2005.
“Will I vote for him?” asked Mr. Green. “Anything can happen… but-no.”