As a public-interest lawyer, consumer affairs commissioner and public advocate of New York, Mark Green has a track record of working on Jewish issues, from advocacy of German reparations for East bloc Holocaust survivors abroad to kosher-food price protection in New York.
In his second bid for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate, Green is advocating for Jonathan Pollard, the former naval intelligence analyst convicted of spying for Israel.
Green recalled a phone call to his office two years ago from Pollard in prison. “We struck up a conversation and a relationship, and I became persuaded that he had committed a serious crime that he seriously regretted … and that people in roughly comparable circumstances had served far less time. It doesn’t set any bad precedent to release him.
“Who else would do what he did, knowing they would get at least 12 years? I believe in deterrence, not torture.”
At the time, Green wrote President Clinton to express those sentiments. This week, Green wrote to National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, his former roommate at Harvard Law School, calling for his help in securing Pollard’s release.
“[Berger] is a good friend, and I try not to bother him except on matters I feel very strongly about,” said Green in an interview with Jewish Week reporters. “I expressed my firm belief that enough is enough, and his sentence should now be commuted to time served.”
Green has been an impressive vote-getter throughout his political career, winning more votes in his 1997 re-election than anyone on the ballot. He won the 1986 Democratic primary for Senate against John Dyson, only to lose to Alfonse D’Amato in the general election. This year, with about $1.1 million on hand, he lags behind D’Amato and primary opponent Rep. Charles Schumer in funds, and behind Geraldine Ferraro in the polls. But Green insists things will swing his way by the Sept. 15 primary.
“In the last month of the primary when there will be a ton of free media attention and paid media ads by me, I will be able to tell voters I’m the activist on their side and win,” Green told The Jewish Week. Following are excerpts from the one-hour interview.
Jewish Week: Do you see Israel as a big issue in this campaign?
Green: Israel is a huge issue for America and the Senate but is unlikely to be big issue in this race. My guess is there is a concurrence of views among the four of us. … However, each of us have our own special history and record on Israel. I don’t doubt Senator D’Amato’s ardor for Israel or accomplishments on issues of Nazi gold or Swiss banks. When I was in Israel 15 months ago for my son’s bar mitzvah, I was asked by an Israeli journalist, ‘How are you going to run against D’Amato? The Jews love him.’ With all due respect, a lot of Jews love me … and I have my own record involving the State of Israel and the Jewish community. My 1979 lawsuit against the U.S. Commerce Department [as a public-interest lawyer working with Ralph Nader] did contribute to the weakening and breakup of the Arab boycott against Israel … I won the suit and released the names of 1,400 American companies going along with the boycott with the goal of shaming them so that no future company might be tempted to put profit above principle … The boycott over 40 years probably took $40 billion out of the Israeli economy.
But in three forums where we’ve all appeared, in none have we ever been asked about Israel.
D’Amato has been out in front on Jewish issues. Are you concerned that New York’s Jews will not want to turn their backs on a friend?
New Yorkers should want a senator who is pro-Israel and pro-ethics and pro-social justice. Al D’Amato is only one out of three. So why wouldn’t American Jews who have several millennia of history as a people who are honorable, who help the needy and want a Jewish homeland, seek a senator who is all three. … There are 140,000 lower-income Jews in New York who were hurt when he voted for cuts in Medicare and Medicaid, and even his vote on the welfare bill would have grossly cut food stamps for legal immigrants, many of whom are Jewish. He has since recanted that position in his election chameleon strategy.
Two years ago I contacted a businessman in Long Island for support, a Holocaust survivor, and he said, ‘I’m supporting D’Amato. Listen, he’s a gonif, but he’s our gonif,’ quote. I said, ‘Give me a break.’ We stand for more than taking a particular foreign policy view. I can be a three-out-of-three senator.
In 1986, I ran against Al D’Amato when I was a little pisher. … I knew less and had less public record and in 1986, according to exit polls, I beat Al D’Amato two to one in the Jewish community. So the notion that he will carry the Jewish community is historically wrong.
D’Amato did win 40 percent of the vote against Bob Abrams, who is Jewish, in 1992.That was five days after Lemrick Nelson was acquitted on Crown Heights charges. It was a tense time.
You are far behind Schumer and D’Amato in funding. How will you overcome that?
I don’t know how D’Amato and Schumer can possibly survive all the handicaps of all their special-interest money. The public is sick and tired of politicians getting huge gifts from legislatively interested parties. The goal is not to have the most money but to have enough money.
Does Geraldine Ferraro’s name recognition give her an advantage?
The Unabomber has name recognition. By the primary, what counts is not your name recognition but the issue is who can best answer the question, ‘Where is the beef?’ that her running mate, Walter Mondale, asked Gary Hart in 1984. And she has yet to answer. She has a paltry record compared to mine, so name recognition was not enough in ’84 and not enough in ’98.
Where do you stand on prayer in public schools?I believe ardently in private prayer and in prayer at synagogues and churches. Public schools should be about public education, so I’m opposed to prayer or silent prayer. … In the middle of Kansas, guess which religion has an advantage when you’re having a silent prayer? I doubt it’s going to be Judaism. Ferraro and Schumer have voted in favor of versions of silent prayer, and I disagree.
What about vouchers for parochial and private schools?It’s fine to encourage more competition between public schools, not for tuition tax credits or vouchers or the Coverdell Amendment, which would allow public money to go to private schools. As it is, there is not enough money for small class sizes, new textbooks and modern technology.
Is there a problem in this country with values? Is popular culture corrupting our society?
Values come from your family, faith and friends. Government has a hard time communicating values because it raises the possibility of religious distinctions and favoring one value system over another. Government has a role to encourage the distribution of information so people can make their own value decisions, like the rating system in movies and TV. I’d like government to focus on [enforcement of laws] against people cheating each other, rather than sticking the nose of the camel in the tent of values.
Next: State Sen. Catherine Abate, Democratic candidate for attorney general.