H. Carl McCall, the former State Comptroller, was looking down from the stage as he introduced Senator John Kerry to a Brooklyn auditorium on Feb. 28.
Mr. McCall rattled off the names of members of Congress, the City Council and the State Assembly who have endorsed Senator Kerry. They all stood up. Then Mr. McCall spotted one of the Senator’s first local backers, still sitting in a front row.
“Mark Green, you can stand up, too,” he said. “You used to get elected to something.”
Mr. Green, the former Public Advocate who lost the 2001 Mayoral race to Michael Bloomberg, took a bow.
Mr. McCall may not have known it, but Mr. Green, a Democrat, is on the verge of declaring his plans to rejoin the ranks of elected officials. He told The Observer that he will publicly reveal his plans after the New York primary-and associates say Mr. Green will declare his candidacy for State Attorney General in 2006. The incumbent Attorney General, Democrat Eliot Spitzer, is expected to run for Governor that year, passing up a chance for re-election.
“It’s a very good time, because so many things are ripening and succeeding,” Mr. Green said. “People are talking to me about running for office again.”
Mr. Green, 58, has rebounded from a defeat that left him, he said, “pulverized.” A February poll from Quinnipiac College showed him in a statistical tie with former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer at the front of a field of possible Democratic Mayoral nominees next year. Mr. Green’s new book on George W. Bush is a best-seller, giving him a new public platform: On March 1, for example, he appeared on MSNBC’s Hardball and taped a segment with PBS’s Charlie Rose.
Most of all, Mr. Green’s decision to become the first local dignitary to endorse Mr. Kerry (he announced his support in January 2003) is paying off. He spent the weekend before the New York primary shepherding Mr. Kerry’s brother to synagogues and schmoozing with the candidate between public appearances.
His decision not to seek a rematch with Mr. Bloomberg could ease some of the lingering tensions from the 2001 Democratic Mayoral primary. But his entry into the Attorney General’s race-assuming that Mr. Spitzer does, in fact, run for Governor-sets the stage for a high-profile contest for a job that Mr. Spitzer has turned into a national platform on issues like pollution and corporate conduct.
In other words, it has become a job with which Mr. Green is familiar. “The Attorney General, especially after Spitzer, is like a Public Advocate writ large,” Mr. Green said.
That doesn’t seem to have lasted long.
Mr. Green spoke to The Observer in his office at the New Democracy Project, a think tank that he revived after his defeat in one of his former campaign offices, located in a midtown building owned by his brother, Stephen Green.
Though Mr. Green has been working out of this office for about two years, the three-room suite gives no hint that he intends to stay. The shelves hold notebooks with newspapers clippings-divided nearly evenly into “Articles by Mark Green” and “Articles about Mark Green”-but the walls are lined with unpacked boxes. In the tradition of campaign headquarters, many expenses seem to have been spared. The radiator clanks loudly, the right arm of Mr. Green’s desk chair is held together with electrical tape, and the window behind him looks out on a brick wall.
In a rare on-the-record self-examination, Mr. Green blamed the defeat largely on a “perfect storm” of the Sept. 11 terror attacks and Mr. Bloomberg’s unprecedented spending spree-some $73 million of his own money. But the candidate-not a man known for admitting error-also told The Observer that he blames himself.
“I absolutely made mistakes,” he said. “I allowed too many people to confuse my natural enthusiasm and confidence as arrogance. My friends and family, who know me, did not recognize the arrogant character we all read about …. Periodically now, people say, ‘Were you too arrogant?’ If I were that, after this life experience, I don’t think I am any more.”
Bitter Battle Ahead
A victory in 2006 will require more than newfound humility. The Attorney General’s job already has emerged as a much sought-after prize for numerous Democrats, all of whom assume that Mr. Spitzer has his eyes on the Governor’s office. Three Assembly members-Jeff Klein of the Bronx, Michael Gianaris of Queens and Richard Brodsky of Westchester-already have entered the race, as has a lawyer who ran for Lieutenant Governor in 2002, Charlie King. Andrew Cuomo, who dropped out of the 2002 Democratic gubernatorial primary, could also seek the job.
The other candidates object strenuously to the notion that Mr. Green could “clear the field,” or that his name recognition-or Mr. Cuomo’s-will make him hard to beat.
“This shouldn’t be something you run for because you couldn’t get elected to anything else,” said Mr. Brodsky, who was at Harvard Law School with Mr. Green. “We’re entitled to a debate over something more than people’s name [recognition] or the offices they’ve run for in the past but not won.”
Still, Mr. Green’s years of work as a consumer advocate- including a stint as a top aide to Ralph Nader-and as Public Advocate could make him a natural.
“Mark’s record translates perfectly into an Attorney General candidate,” said Josh Isay, a Democratic political consultant. “He’s been a people’s lawyer, and that’s what the job is.”
But with his strengths, Mr. Green brings the liabilities from the 2001 race. An incident from that contest lingers: A Brooklyn grand jury is looking into vaguely defined claims of misused campaign money and hidden expenditures. At the heart of it is a set of flyers featuring a reprint of a New York Post cartoon featuring caricatures of Mr. Ferrer and the Reverend Al Sharpton. The campaign initially denied printing the flyers, but a campaign staffer later admitted that he had produced them.
Mr. Green said that he’s not a target of the investigation and hasn’t been called before the grand jury. He said he knew nothing of the flyers. But Mr. Gianaris, the Queens Assemblyman who is running for Attorney General, already has begun to make an issue of the controversy.
“We need to make sure that candidates are held accountable for any misdeeds of their campaigns,” Mr. Gianaris said. “Mark Green has still not answered any questions about what his knowledge was and what role his campaign played” in the flyer incident, he said.
The degree to which these charges stick will depend on the Brooklyn District Attorney, Charles Hynes, on Mr. Sharpton, and on Mr. Ferrer and his supporters-as well as on Mr. Green’s own ability to mend fences during next year’s Mayoral contest. “I’ve certainly put that behind me,” Mr. Ferrer said. “I’d consider supporting [Mr. Green] in 2006.”
In the race for Attorney General, Mr. Gianaris and Mr. Klein have head starts on the better-known Mr. Green. Each has raised about $1 million already, and they’ve been busily courting local leaders across the state. But Mr. Green never quite left the campaign trail, either. On Feb. 27, for example, he had just arrived from Buffalo for a standing-room-only reading with his co-author, Eric Alterman, at the Barnes and Noble bookstore on the Upper West Side. Their 420-page collaboration, The Book on Bush , is a kind of upscale compendium of attacks on the President, printed in smaller type and notably wonkier than those at the top of the best-seller list. “We are agnostic about the specific proposition that ‘Bush is a liar,’” one footnote advises.
After the reading, a woman in jeans and a yellow shirt, Laura Kaminker, stood in line to speak to Mr. Green, who was signing books and shaking hands. It was an encounter straight off the campaign trail. “I’ve voted for you for everything you’ve ever run for,” she said eagerly when she reached the end of the line. Mr. Green signed the book, shook her hand and thanked her with a look that made it clear she’ll have one more chance.