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Crashing Green's Party

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If you look back over the past couple of decades, you see that the blustery, larger-than-life mayors, men who were able to impose their will on the city (Giuliani and Koch), were much more effective leaders than the quieter, less obtrusive mayors (Dinkins and Beame).

"The city has always fed off strong, dominant personalities," says the Urban League's Walcott. "To govern, you need to have that 'it' thing, that thing that really marks you as unique. This not only helps you govern, it helps you manage, and it really helps you define and communicate your vision."

Green doesn't disagree about the importance of the "it" thing, only about whether he has it. "If I didn't have the confidence in my leadership skills, which is to show courage, vision, tenacity, and compassion and be able to communicate, I wouldn't run and I shouldn't serve," he says.

"I agree that to be a successful mayor, you have to have a vocal, dynamic personality. But remember, FDR wasn't FDR when he was governor. He became FDR as president. And John Kennedy was just a suave senator. He wasn't JFK until he became president. And the Rudy Giuliani of 2001 is not the Rudy Giuliani of 1989 and 1993. I'm as well prepared to become mayor as anyone in recent memory."

And Green may actually be tougher and more complicated than he's let on -- not necessarily in a good way. Several of his staff I talked to said he can be extremely difficult to work for. He's demanding and he micromanages. "He's very tough to satisfy, he's a complete control freak, and, underneath it all," says one staff member, "he's a pretty cold guy."

Stephen Gillers, a widely respected professor of ethics at NYU Law School, has known Green for 30 years. He was also a law-school classmate of Giuliani's. Gillers, perhaps surprisingly, thinks there are just as many similarities between the two men as there are differences. "Both men are capable of intense focus, both can roll up their sleeves and devour a problem from every conceivable angle, both have the capacity to master detail, and both men have unquestionable integrity," Gillers says.

"Obviously, they are ideologically and temperamentally different and their presentation of self is different, but they're really alike in many respects. And Mark is nothing if not persistent. Anyone who's been through as many campaigns as he has would've given up by now if he weren't. But I think that Mark, like Rudy, is driven by the belief that he can make his goals real."

Green says he is under no illusions about the immensity of the task the next mayor faces. He has established a set of priorities: safety and security; rebuilding the city; and what he calls home-front issues. These are the things that led him to run in the first place: smaller classes, affordable housing, more community policing; and an effort to make sure the city remains united.

"The home-front issues are still dreams, although they may have to be deferred in time but not in accomplishment," Green says in his signature, pretzel-like syntax.

Green also knows that everything that has to be done will be made more difficult by the coming budget problems. He says he'd already started work on an austerity budget before the current crisis.

The next mayor will have to make some very hard choices. And while labels like conservative and liberal may seem out of place in this anomalous moment of unity, they still offer clear signs about where a candidate's priorities will lie when the inevitable cuts have to be made in next year's budget.

So, has Green undergone an ideological transformation? On a warm Wednesday afternoon during what turned out to be the city's last week of innocence, Green was campaigning in shirtsleeves at the farmers' market in Union Square. He looked, except for the plume of white hair and the slight hitch in his gait because of a bad knee, pretty much like he did when he played first singles for the Great Neck South High School tennis team.

Amid the McIntosh apples, organic tomatoes, and Catskill strawberries, there were as many different kinds and shapes and colors of people as there were fruits and vegetables. Green talked to blacks, Hispanics, Arabs, Asians, and Hasidic Jews. At one point while he was walking through Union Square Park, surrounded by flowers and hundreds of people enjoying the urban oasis on a summer afternoon, he called me over.

"You see that building over there?" he said, pointing to an office tower across from the park. "I used to work there. And five or six years ago, this," he said, moving his arm in a broad sweep to include the entire park, "used to be needle central. Look at how beautiful it is now. This is a case study in how things should work."

This was the new Mark Green, who is buddies with Bill Bratton and talks about the importance of public safety at every campaign stop. "Mark's positions today are not the same as they were 25 years ago or 15 years ago or even 10 years ago," says Michael Waldman, onetime head speechwriter for Bill Clinton. "He's like a lot of Democrats who've learned the lessons of the past two decades."

When I asked him later if he had indeed undergone an ideological transformation, he quickly and aggressively resisted. "Name three ways you can spot that I've changed," he challenged, without letting me answer. "You can't. Okay, you're not being interviewed, so you're off the hook. But you'd be hard-pressed to find examples of where I've run away from things I've done or said before."

I tried a different strategy. I told him there's no way that five or six years ago he would have stopped while campaigning to make sure a reporter was aware of a change like the one he pointed out in Union Square Park. "Have I changed my views, post-Giuliani, on law enforcement?" Green asked. "Of course. I'm acknowledging I've learned from all this. My God, if I didn't, I wouldn't have eyes, ears, and a brain.

"I'm running to create a safer, smarter city," he continued. "A collateral benefit is I hope to be a proud Democrat who proves that we can again successfully manage a city based on smart, progressive values. You can be tough-minded and kindhearted. They are not inconsistent. I hope to be among a class of Democrats in cities who show that we have the brains, the backbone, and the heart to govern successfully."

Only a few weeks ago, the possibility of a Green administration in City Hall conjured images of glamour, youth, and a return to open government. His campaign has attracted hundreds of enthusiastic young volunteers along with celebrities like Russell Simmons, Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora, Mary J. Blige, David Boies, Warren Beatty, Annette Bening, Richard Dreyfuss, and Mandy Patinkin.

None of that seems to matter much now. Not in the face of the monumental challenges that await the next mayor. The difficulties almost make one wonder why anybody would even want the job at this point. "You have to understand something about Mark," says former national-security adviser Sandy Berger, who was Green's roommate at Harvard Law School. "He loves government and he loves governing."

Will that be enough? "If you'll permit me to quote John Kennedy," Green says, stretching his eyelids, which he does frequently for emphasis, like William Buckley. "He once said he wanted to put a man on the moon not because it was easy. He wanted to do it because it was hard."


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