What Barack Obama Can Learn From Mark Green


I distinctly remember the morning that Michael Bloomberg was elected mayor of New York. Two months after 9/11, I woke up in my microscopic studio apartment in the far East Village, once known as Alphabet City, and walked to work and glanced at the New York Post as I walked by the local deli. The headline declared the billionaire businessman, who had been smeared as a œdilettante and largely written off, as the winner of the election. He beat Mark Green, a far more experienced local politician, and the favorite by all accounts, by a mere two percent.

It was a stunning upset.

I was shocked. Everyone I knew had voted for Mark Green. Most editorials had supported him, including the New York Times, which stated the case, thus: œThis an easy call, Mark Green gets our endorsement for mayor¦.Mr. Bloomberg has run hard, but the fundamental argument behind his candidacy is flawed. He claims that as a successful entrepreneur, he is better qualified to be mayor than Mr. Green, a career politician. ¦ The Times editorial noted, œMr. Green has not been the most lovable candidate in New York City history, but he has demonstrated a deep understanding of the issues, a sensible approach to public policy, and the soul of a fighter. That may be the quality he will find most useful if he becomes the city’s next mayor.”

The culture watchers at Paper magazine ran a letter from the editor written by David Hershkovits introducing a profile on Green that had gone to press before the election. The piece celebrated our new nightlife-friendly mayor, Mark Green. It read: ‘‘Mayor Mark Green. Get used to the sound of it because, by the time you read this, the former public advocate will have been elected.”
It was not to be. And in a way, it was OK. Bloomberg turned out to be a far better politician and mayor than the Times had predicted. The take-away for us, and for Barack Obama, is that almost no one saw it coming.
I find the Green upset to be particularly instructive to the Obama-McCain duel. There were a few differences. Bloomberg, unlike McCain, was no one’s media darling. When it was revealed that Bloomberg had preemptively  quit exclusive clubs, the Daily News called Bloomie™s handling of questions,  “lame and defensive.”

But like McCain, he was regularly depicted as curmudgeonly and an ineloquent speaker. By contrast, Mark Green”now the president of Air America”was often portrayed as being too smooth or slick.
Though the polls have been consistently tight, and though many handwringing pieces have tried to examine why Obama is behind, the recent polls were the first indication of serious trouble in Obama-land.

The 2001 mayoral election, postponed because of September 11, was still less than two months after the attack. The  bitter smell of burned bodies and jet fuel still lingered in the air. The city was in shock.
Throughout the summer, when Green was still fending off his Democratic challengers, the polls showed Green up two-to-one against Bloomberg. In fact, in all hypothetical matchups against all the Dem candidates, Bloomberg got his ass kicked.
In the week before the election, Rudy Giuliani gave Bloomberg an endorsement. Before the World Trade Center attacks, Guiliani was mostly vilified by the public and the media. He had broken up with his wife in a press conference, he seemed mean and bitter, he had made a mess of the budget, and had a string racially charged police crimes on his record.  But September 11 transformed Giuliani into America’s Mayor. While our president was mostly absent in the immediate hours after the attacks (and when he was present, it was worse, as he was a bumbling, doddering cowboy), Guiliani was solid and steady, assured, confident, calm, and exuded compassion. He was almost like a human. His backing of Bloomberg did much to boost the billionaire, more than most could have imagined at the time.

But Bloomie also spent $69 million of his own money at a rate of $92 a vote, according to the Times. Still, in November, the margin was wide enough “42 for Green, 37 for Bloomberg “that many talked about how Green was already “measuring the drapes in Gracie Mansion.”  The Times article also notes the number of undecideds, 20%,  who likely threw the election at the last minute to Bloomberg.  As of earlier this month, 13 percent of those polled were undecided in the Obama-McCain matchup. That’s too many people.

Back in November 2001, the Times reported that people were critical of Mark Green’s campaign, because he wasn’t going negative. It is the same criticism being levied at Obama and the Democratic regime. Pundit James Carville opined that the Dems “wasted their first night” by producing feel-good convention fare, instead of fist-pounding McCain the GOP.
The Times wrote in 2001: “Nonetheless, news that Mr. Bloomberg was appearing to close in on Mr. Green in a city with such an edge in registered Democrats, and after Mr. Green had been acting as if victory were at hand, caught supporters of both candidates by surprise….  they said, Mr. Green ran a safe campaign, avoiding attacks on his opponents or offering a compelling case for his own candidacy.”

Obama has another, unfortunate, parallel to Green; while he is most likely going to benefit from Republicans who™ve soured on John McCain, he is also at risk of losing Democrats, particularly the Clintonites.
According to MSNBC, Green was hurt by a defection of Democrats, with a third of them voting for Bloomberg, according to an exit poll conducted by Edison Media Research for various television and newspaper outlets.”

While most Democrats are unwilling to believe that there is even the possibility of losing, there’s at least one person who doesn’t think Barack will be cruising past McCain in November. Tom Hayden, sixties political activist and former California state legislator, told the Denver Press Club that Obama will lose the election.
He ticked off a few reasons, reported by the Huffington Post:

“An African-American candidate talking about economics and a white war hero”it’s clear to me who is going to win.”
He nitpicked Obama’s choice to vacation in an “exotic” locale like Hawaii instead of some place on the mainland like Myrtle Beach.

But it was another warning bell he sounded that rang the truest to me.

“‘There’s the pursuit of the last white man standing in Pennsylvania,'” he said, rather than a fierce pursuit of the Latino vote, which is what Hayden would like to see.”

Bloomberg knew that, too. On election day, walking through my Dominican and Puerto Rican hood, I was bombarded, as usual, by people flyering on the sidewalks. But when I took the flyer, I was a little perplexed. It was a sticker for Bloomberg in Spanish. I thought, “That’s odd,” and the next morning he was the Mayor.