For progressives, the mayoral race in New York City could be the most significant electoral test since the 2000 presidential election, one with broad national implications. That's because of the candidacy of Mark Green. He far surpasses his rivals in the upcoming Democratic primary in his ability to articulate a progressive vision for New York City in the twenty-first century. He is something unusual in this city's politics–a classy, smart, articulate public servant, seasoned and tested. Quite simply, he's the best-qualified person for the job. His election would carry a political bonus: As chief executive of a major city he would be a role model for like-minded candidates in other cities and inspire young idealists on the left to enter politics. The national visibility that comes with the New York mayoralty will make him an effective voice for a rejuvenated urban progressivism. We're itching to see him debate his likely GOP opponent, media billionaire Michael Bloomberg, in a clear-cut test of message versus money.
Green has displayed a steadfast commitment to political activism and consumer advocacy since the 1970s, when he was one of the most effective of Nader's Raiders. This background reflects a principled skepticism about corporate power that is rare among politicians and that animated his creative activism as New York's Commissioner of Consumer Affairs and more recently as Public Advocate. Electing him mayor would give New Yorkers an ombudsman at the top.
Green has been a contributor to this magazine for more than twenty years, but we do not endorse him for parochial reasons. Rather, we see his contributions to The Nation as testament of his allegiance to progressive values. His special talent as a writer is a plus because it has given him the ability to articulate and dramatize complex issues in ways that engage a broad audience.
The only other candidate running as a progressive in the upcoming primary is Bronx borough president Fernando Ferrer, who has focused on championing the "other New York," the poor and the minorities cynically written off by the Giuliani administration. But his record raises questions about his governing skills at the citywide level and the depth of his commitment. In 1996, positioning himself to run against two solidly left candidates, he presented himself as a centrist, DLC-style Democrat.
In contrast, Mark Green has been a tireless and effective voice for the poor and the working class. As Public Advocate, he fought the secretive Giuliani regime and he can be depended on to let the sunshine in at City Hall. Unlike Giuliani, racial justice is a critical priority for him; in a polyglot city it's a measure of the kind of public official he's been and the kind of campaign he's run that he alone scores consistently well in polls among blacks, Jews, Latinos and white Catholics. He has vigorously opposed racial profiling and has been a sharp critic of police brutality, notably in the Amadou Diallo case. He has also shown an intelligent support for good policing, rising out of his awareness of the primacy of public safety and the right to be secure in one's person as a basic human right. As he sums up, "I'm a proud progressive Democrat on issues like social justice, choice, gay rights."
Although we have our differences with Green, he embodies the best chance in many years to prove that a world-class liberal can govern a world-class city.