It has been said that virtue is its own reward. Tell that to Mark Green whose record of public service and a clean, vigorous, primary campaign for the Democratic party’s Senatorial candidacy against Senator Al D’Amato earlier this year, resulted in his coming in third.
Having worked with Mark Green for nearly thirty years — ten of which were with our groups in Washington, DC — I don’t know anybody in the country more superbly prepared for the U.S. Senate.
Why? Well try this short list. After graduating Harvard Law School, he has authored and edited over a dozen books, including the all-time best seller on Congress called “Who Runs Congress.” He ran our Congress Watch in the Seventies and gained both success and experience in pressing for legislation that gave people power and held corporations and government more accountable.
Returning home to New York City, he founded The Democracy Project which launched many citizen campaigns in the areas of consumer protection, corporate responsibility and campaign finance reform. In 1990 he became New York City’s Commissioner of Consumer Affairs and became the most dynamic and serious consumer law enforcement official in the country.
Did anyone in New York know about his steadfast ways of making government work in favor of the people for a change? Definitely. He appeared very often on television, radio and in the newspapers as a sentinel for the public interest. He was one of the best known individuals in that large metropolis. So when he ran for the elected office of the City’s Public Advocate, he won easily and was re-elected in 1997 with more votes than garnered by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
Green always had his eye on the U.S. Senate, having lost a race against D’Amato in 1986 who vastly outspent him. He later kept a vigilant watch on the Senator and his very dubious ethics with such a sincerity of purpose that even the cynical reporters, who reported on Green’s evaluations, did not think such an effort was sour grapes.
As of January 1998, Green was viewed as a front-runner for the Democratic nomination. Then two other candidates tossed their hats in the ring — the famous Geraldine Ferraro and the massively funded, Rep. Charles Schumer.
Ferraro instantly led in the polls by a large margin with Green second ahead of Schumer. No one outworked Green. No one took more courageous stands, based on his past achievements, not his promissory rhetoric.
Money in politics reform? Green was the moving force in passing recent New York City campaign finance reform legislation. Consumer protection for tenants, patients, food, fuel, insurance, car and banking shoppers? There was no one near second place among the candidates. Taking on the bloated defense budget long after the collapse of the Soviet Union? Green issued a five year reduction of non-essential expenditures to save $100 billion which could be spent on serious needs in the U.S.
Green led in going after the tobacco industry, before it was commonplace, took investigations deep into gouging and unsafe HMOs, pressed for safer schools and expanded child care for working families. Alone, he turned down a $20,000 pay increase that other elected officials took quickly. Without immodesty, he said “I have taken on the powerful for the powerless and won.”
In the meantime, while Green was campaigning empirically — the streets, halls and neighborhoods — Schumer was campaigning electronically — all over the television. Millions and millions of dollars worth. Green raised $3 million from individuals, friends, and celebrity fundraisers and concerts. He steered away from special interests like brokerage houses, banks and other corporations whose executives showered Schumer with millions of dollars in contributions.
Schumer raised over $13 million. He had much of this money in the bank before he announced his candidacy. And that was the difference. Some old friends of Mark, such as New York columnist and author, Jack Newfield, left him and endorsed Schumer. Only Schumer, they said, had the money to beat D’Amato. As Ferraro fell in the polls, Schumer and his money chest picked up most of what she lost.
It came down to this: Schumer got the endorsements that Mark deserved, including that of the New York Times, because he had the money. Mark could not match his fellow Democrat’s outstretched hand to a large assortment of PACs and interest groups. Nor did he want to. He wanted to win on his record, his honesty, his work ethic, and his impressive debating skills.
When primary day came and went in September, Mark Green came in third, behind both Schumer who ran on his money and saturation from television, and Ferraro who ran on her fame. He did it right, but dollar might prevailed. The banks were happy, for Schumer earlier had joined D’Amato and voted for H.R. 10 — the giant bank conglomerate legislation.
Green played the good sport and endorsed Schumer. The consolation prize? Mayor Guiliani runs for the Senate in the year 2000, Green automatically succeeds him as Mayor, as the incumbent Public Advocate law requires.