NEW YORK, Nov. 24 (UPI) -- "Victory has a thousand fathers; defeat is an
No one knows that better than Mark Green, the defeated Democratic candidate for mayor of New York City. Reporters and many other politicians have fallen over themselves describing all the ways in which Green was a bad candidate, and all the mistakes he made. The mantras of the discussion have been "he started with a 40-point lead" and "there are five times as many Democrats as Republicans in New York City."
Of course, starting with a 40-point lead against a billionaire candidate few people had heard of meant nothing once that candidate began spending money, and the registration figures in New York City, while of interest in national politics, did not keep Republican Rudy Giuliani in the last three mayoral elections from splitting two close elections against David Dinkins and winning an easy one against Ruth Messinger.
A lot of reporters have acted as though winning the job was a snap, but that's only because reporters don't have to run for office. In fact,
running for mayor this year was an excruciating experience for all the candidates.
In a sense, it might be surprising that anyone was surprised that a man who spent $60 million of his own money and had the support of an
overwhelmingly popular incumbent mayor won the NYC mayoral election, but it wasn't until four days before the election that it all began to fall
into place for Michael Bloomberg.
It is well known that George W. Bush had a high-rolling campaign for president last year, but he had he spent as much per vote as Bloomberg did, Bush would have spent more than $4 billion last year.
Until the end, just about everyone in town thought Green would win the election. Green ended in the position of the Buffalo Bills -- everyone remembers they were "losers" in five Super Bowls but no one remembers that they were good enough to get to five Super Bowls.
It wasn't as if Bloomberg made no errors. He made many, but a distracted media paid little attention to them, faced with running stories on the
World Trade Center, anthrax scares, and the improbable run of the New York Yankees.
In order to win the Democratic primary, Green had had to overcome three strong candidates in a climate of racial polarization between white
voters who were pro-Giuliani and minority voters who were anti-Giuliani.
Although Green led for two years in every poll in the race until Labor Day, he was never the favorite of the Democratic establishment, most of
which expected to support Comptroller Alan Hevesi, until polls showed him weak among minority voters.
The "twin towers" of the Green strategy were his support by former Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, aimed at satisfying Giuliani supporters, and by former Mayor David Dinkins, keeping anti-Giuliani voters happy. Throughout the Democratic primary race, Green was the only candidate with substantial support from both white and minority
voters -- that assured him a place in the run-off, and made his victory in such a runoff seem likely all year.
In the last few weeks before Sept. 11, Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer made a strong run at Green, propelled by the late endorsement of him by black politicians, most notably the Rev. Al Sharpton. Even so, on the morning of the Sept. 11 primary, there still was a wide consensus among politicos that Green would be the next mayor.
It turned out the collapse of the real twin towers on Sept. 11, besides postponing the primary, brought down Green's twin towers
Until that crisis, any endorsement by Giuliani brought many supporters to a candidate, but even more foes. Afterward, his popularity among whites soared to unbelievable heights, while his
unpopularity among minorities dropped considerably.
And even though the results of the postponed first primary put Ferrer an unexpected 4 points ahead of Green, the exit polls showed Green
would still, with the support of most of the voters of the losing candidates, Alan Hevesi and Peter Vallone, win the runoff by more than 10 points.
But here Giuliani made his first major intervention into the race. By demanding a three-month extension to his term, he made Ferrer into
the guy who "just said no" and Green, heretofore known as Rudy's inveterate opponent, into the guy who acquiesced. Green's minority stronghold crumbled after 10 days of attacks from Ferrer.
In effect, Giuliani had drawn Green out of his minority fortress.
One-seventh of those who voted for Green in the first primary switched to Ferrer and to beat Ferrer Green had to reach much further right than he had intended to in order to win the run-off by a bare 18,000 votes. Twenty-nine percent of his primary voters turned to Bloomberg in the fall,
as did 50 percent of Ferrer's voters, an unlikely coalition indeed.
Worse, the candidate the New York Times wrote about on Oct. 21st as the one who was about to become mayor without owing anything to established
Democratic interest groups had now allowed those interest groups a chance to shoot him in the back, a chance which they took with great glee.
Bronx Party Chair Roberto Ramirez and Dennis Rivera, the head of New York's most politically powerful union, Local 1199, the Hospital
Workers, already had made their deals to tacitly support Republican Gov. George Pataki for governor in 2002. Now they were joined by Sharpton, all of them purveying the message that Mark Green was
When Giuliani taped a strong ad for Bloomberg, Green now faced a mobilization of the white vote against him, while many of the leaders of the minority community were demobilizing that vote. And, in the wake of Sept. 11, Giuliani was no longer the polarizing figure in minority neighborhoods he had been for seven years.
At this point, Green made a strategic error and a tactical error. The strategic error was to abandon his traditional use of the free media on the grounds that he was the "frontrunner" and had no need to debate Bloomberg. With Bloomberg dominating the paid media -- including not just
TV but also radio and a flood of mail -- Green should have been debating Bloomberg every day.
Lacking this, the free media, when they weren't
ignoring the race altogether, was spending its time covering "Green's racial troubles."
The tactical error was that Green waited too long to run his own negative ads about Bloomberg, and when he did, they were ads attacking Bloomberg's past indiscretions rather than ads critiquing Bloomberg's unclear definition of what he was going to do.
In the end, despite the media's focus on Bloomberg's big margins among white Catholics, and his split of the Jewish and Latino votes with
Green, Green lost the election on the East side of Manhattan, in the "silk-stocking district" which had been the base of mayors Lindsay and Koch and of Giuliani as well. The three Assembly Districts there went overwhelmingly for Bloomberg, with the result that Green lost by the narrowest margin in the history of greater New York's mayoral elections.
Green, described by Dick Morris earlier in the year as an excellent candidate who could never raise enough money, had been financially overwhelmed in the three races he had lost in his career, against millionaire Bill Green for Congress in 1980, against Al D'Amato for Senate in 1986, and against Chuck Schumer for Senate in 1998.
This year, determined to avoid being overwhelmed by Hevesi's financial advantages, Green, together with City Council Speaker Peter Vallone, had pushed through a matching-funds law that matched
contributions 4-to-1 and limited expenditures to $4.7 million each for the primary and general election. All the Democratic candidates complied with this law, but Bloomberg, raising no money, simply financed his own campaign. Ironically, in the end, Green was buried in money once again.
And he was buried by the events of Sept. 11, which made it possible for Giuliani and Sharpton to form a tacit alliance to defeat Green. On the day after the election, since the media had never
thought seriously about what Bloomberg might do if he won, the city woke up with a mayor-elect about whom very little was known, instead of the
perhaps too-familiar Green.
What will the new mayor do with the unlikely coalition that elected him? That's a story for another day.
(Jim Chapin is a historian and former adviser to Mark Green, New York City's public advocate. He now writes about politics for UPI.)