With Betsy Gotbaum declining to seek re-election, there is no incumbent in this year’s heated race for public advocate. Or is there?
Mark Green, the Democrat who narrowly lost the mayoral race in 2001 after two terms as public advocate, is looking for his old job back. In 1997, Green won more votes in his re-election bid in that job than did Mayor Rudy Giuliani in his.
But the years since have been less kind. The following year he lost a Democratic Senate primary to Chuck Schumer, then in 2001 kicked off a credible mayoral campaign that stumbled at the finish line as Mike Bloomberg sailed past him into City Hall. Green ran for state attorney general in 2006, calling it his last campaign.
In the campaign after that, Green wants to be the first citywide official in recent history to return to a job he vacated.
“It’s important to do what you love and to work where you can have the most value,” Green said in a recent interview. “And for me that’s not being an Olympic high-jumper or an investment banker. It’s being a lifelong advocate for our families. And since I thought I did a good job as the first public advocate why not continue and try to be the third public advocate?” (The job was previously City Council president.)
To get there, Green will have to high-jump over a large field of fellow Democrats who have the office in their sights, including Council Members Bill de Blasio, Eric Goia and civil rights lawyer Norman Siegel, who has run for the office twice before. Staten Island financial consultant Alex Zablocki is seeking the Republican nomination.
As for his declared retirement from politics, Green says “On election night in 2006, I said what I meant. But when I saw this city in crisis and saw Betsy not running again, and I saw Mayor Bloomberg acting almost monarchically in his effort to overturn term limits, I realized that my best contribution would be a return to the office of public advocate.”
And if both he and Bloomberg should win in November, what would it be like working with the man who bested him in 2001?
“It is built into the job of public advocate to be a watchdog over City Hall,” says Green. “Mike and I personally get along and have since election night 2001. I’ll be supporting the Democrat for mayor, but should [Bloomberg] win it’s likely that periodically I’ll investigate or propose something that he disagrees with. But I hope to work with him whenever I can.”
Henry Stern, a former Council member and founder of NY Civic, a government watchdog group, says Green’s candidacy appears to be an effort to position himself once again as a mayoral contender if Bloomberg wins a third term.
“He sees this as a stepping stone to run for mayor in four years,” says Stern.
Stern said Green’s chances of success depend on “how he is treated in the media. He has the plus of name recognition, but it’s also a minus in his case because so many people [in his party] blame him for Bloomberg’s election as mayor.”
He was referring to the divisive 2001 runoff in which operatives tied to Green were found to have plotted a campaign to tie Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer to the controversial Rev. Al Sharpton. Green has always insisted he had no role in that plot.
In handicapping the race, Stern said, “the best way to look at it is in the way of baseball, a contest between pitchers. Goia is 2-0 and de Blasio is 2-0 whereas Siegel is 0-2 and Green is 2-4. In a race between two veterans and two rookies, as it were, who are regarded as up and coming, I would favor the two newcomers.”
Siegel says he had hoped Green would stay out of the race. He feels Green did a better job than Gotbaum.
“He was more energetic, and some say he was more energetic because he wants to be mayor, and some still say he wants to use the job as a stepping stone. The distinction for me is I don’t want to run for mayor or U.S. Senate or attorney general. I just want to be the people’s advocate. I’m not a career pol.”
Siegel, who came in second place in the last two races for the office, says he wants to decentralize the office and recruit a corps of volunteers to perform community services at housing projects and senior centers.
Goia, a Queens Democrat, made headlines last year when he announced that he would feed himself for a week on $28, the amount provided to food stamps recipients. “I ran out of food in five days,” he told The Jewish Week on Tuesday, adding that “if you were living on kosher food you would have run out in four days. That’s something that doesn’t get talked about enough. People think Jewish poverty is an oxymoron, and on the streets you know it is not.”
Goia also credited himself with helping construct an eruv for the Young Israel of Sunnyside in his district. “I was also a leading advocate for Nazi victims in New York and helped set up programs in all five boroughs. Part of the job of public advocacy is to bring up issues that good people agree need to change and then build coalitions to fix them. I’m uniquely positioned to do that.”
Attempts to reach de Blasio by phone over several days were unsuccessful.
A Jewish City Council candidate who once publicly disavowed his infant son’s right to citizenship in Israel now says he regrets his language.
“We are thrilled to pronounce you a Jew without the right of return,” wrote Brad Lander in an essay in the 2003 book “Wrestling with Zion,” edited by Tony Kushner and Alisa Solomon. Lander, whose wife is not Jewish, was evidently under the impression that his child’s mixed parentage rendered him ineligible to be an Israeli.
“Your last name is your mother’s — a non-Jewish one by the fact of which you are ineligible for the nationalist privilege of automatic citizenship … We believe that law confuses the wonderful and painful inheritance of identity with unearned advantages — legal, political and financial granted by a militarized state over other people. Including so many it oppresses daily.”
The essay recently resurfaced in a post on the political blog Room 8. Writes the blogger Chaim Yankel: “The problem is that he holds those anti-Israel beliefs with such vehemence that he chooses to put them into an anthology, so that his sanctimonious, self-righteous rejection of a right which might have saved millions can be held up as an example of what the ‘good Jews’ are thinking.”
In an interview at the breakfast of the Council of Jewish Organizations of Flatbush, Lander, who is director of the Pratt Center for Community Development, said he “regrets the language” and supports a two-state solution and the right of return. “I want my son to be part of the Jewish community, but it was a mistake to allow my feelings to go public like that,” he said.
Part of heavily Jewish Borough Park is included in the district.
Yeruchim Silber, a former aide to de Blasio, said “most people are not holding this against him. His record speaks for itself.”