November 4, 1997 was not a good night for Democrats in New York City. In a ballroom at the Sheraton New York, the party's officials and volunteers mingled and chatted in somber tones as they waited for the television sets to broadcast the expected trouncing of their mayoral nominee, Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger, at the hands of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
But then a few upbeat young women edged into the crowd, tapping shoulders and asking folks to step over to the ballroom next door so that the city's public advocate, who had won a second term by a 50-percentage point margin over a little-known candidate he'd outspent by more than three to one, could have a good cheering section for his victory speech. A few dozen people obeyed and passed through the partition to a nearly empty room. Soon, a campaign aide cued up some rocking tunes on a boom box, the gathered volunteers began hooting and Mark Green leapt onto the stage to tell the crowd, “You ain't seen nothing yet.” After all, he'd won more votes than any candidate for any city office that year. Mark Green, it seemed, was going places.
But that was the last time Green was elected to public office, despite subsequent runs for U.S. Senate, mayor and state attorney general. Now, he's seeking to regain the only post he's ever won—which, as the city's first-ever public advocate, he largely defined over two terms. Polls say he's currently a huge favorite to win the Sept. 15 Democratic primary: Green has 42 percent in the latest Marist Poll, well ahead of civil liberties lawyer Norman Siegel's 15 percent, Councilman Bill deBlasio's 9 percent and Councilman Eric Gioia's 4 percent.
It's like 1997 all over again … except it's not. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is not the lighting rod his predecessor was. The September 11 attacks, two recessions and a development boom have reshaped the city. And Mark Green isn't the next big thing, he's a known—some would say too well-known—quantity.
Green insists that he recognizes those facts. “I've learned a lot and done a lot over the last eight years— being a businessman, teaching at NYU, editing several books,” the 64-year-old Green says over coffee in a Gramercy Park caf