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Jewish World Review Oct. 22, 2001 / 5 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762

George Will

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The Greening of New York -- NEW YORK | Mark Green's long shinny up the greasy pole of city politics will almost certainly be crowned with success when he is elected mayor Nov. 6. He has a difficult act to follow.

However, he may find governing after Rudy Giuliani made easier, in a sense, by the task of galvanizing the city's recovery from the trauma of terrorism. The encompassing nature of that challenge will force him to temper his liberalism. Furthermore, the sheer silliness of his opponent, who is crudely playing the race card, should emancipate Green from the sort of solicitous feelings that liberal mayors feel toward race hustlers, like Al Sharpton, who are parasitic off liberal guilt.

Green's "Republican" opponent is Michael Bloomberg, a liberal Democrat who, perhaps bored with piling up billions from his financial information media empire, decided to take up politics as a hobby by purchasing the mayoralty. To avoid a crowded Democratic primary, Bloomberg, no martyr to the ethic that parties should stand for something, baptized himself a Republican and spent $20 million -- more than $400 for each of the 48,055 votes he received -- winning the nomination at the disposal of the city's wee Republican Party.

The hobbyist could not have known how Sept. 11 would make government seem an extremely serious matter. Bloomberg admits to being a brilliant "manager," and he really may believe, as Saint-Simon did, that the governance of people can be reduced to the administration of things. He has been reduced to accusing Green, whose liberal credentials are alarmingly impeccable, of racist campaigning.

Green supposedly sinned by questioning the competence of his opponent in the Democratic runoff, Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, whose response to the toppling of the World Trade Center was to suggest dispersing the financial services industry to places such as . . . the Bronx. Green is also being blamed for anonymous fliers and phone calls warning -- truthfully -- that Ferrer is close to Sharpton. Green, incorrigibly liberal, calls these warnings "despicable," but he probably owes his victory to Sharpton's embrace of Ferrer. (Ferrer endorsed Green on Friday.)

A prominent black Ferrer supporter, living like many liberals in a time warp, said Green's campaign made her think she was living in Mississippi. She should be so lucky. Mississippi has more black elected officials than any other state. Alabama is second, Louisiana third.

New York, with five times more registered Democrats than Republicans, is becoming more Democratic because of the influx of immigrants and young single people. It elects Republican mayors only to clean up the messes Democrats make (e.g., Giuliani following David Dinkins) and never has elected a Republican to follow a Republican. Green was in Dinkins's disastrous administration but, pioneering a lamentable locution, he insists, "I am not guilt-associated with anybody."

Because the biggest public-sector unions supported Ferrer, Green tartly says he can deal with the unions "at arm's length." If so, he will be less likely to make a mess by allowing them to become rampant, as they were when the city slid to the brink of bankruptcy in the 1970s.

Before Sept. 11, the city's gross economic product was $373 billion, so it will be wounded but not devastated by the projected loss of $21 billion in business next year. Fortune magazine reports that by Oct. 7, Broadway was doing better business than the week before the attacks and that the hotel occupancy rate was the country's highest.

However, the city is facing at least a $4 billion hole in its $40 billion budget. Giuliani says, with characteristic pungency, that raising taxes would be "dumb, stupid, idiotic and moronic," and Green, speaking at his Lexington Avenue campaign headquarters, essentially agrees, saying "don't tax capital, which is mobile, in an approaching recession."

He had been hoping to use the several hundred million dollars in yearly payments in lieu of property taxes from the World Trade Center to begin building a $15 billion Second Avenue subway to relieve what he calls the "Tokyo level, sardine" crowding on the Lexington line. Later, maybe. Public funds for new ballparks for the Yankees and Mets? Fuggedaboutit.

Having lost two U.S. Senate campaigns, Green, who is 56, has spent eight years as public advocate, which as its title indicates is an almost entirely rhetorical job, for which he was too well suited. His flippancy -- a fondness for his wisecracks -- is a facet of a fluency born of zillions of press conferences on every grievance known to a city of gifted complainers, including the high price of gefilte fish during Passover.

But that was then. Now perhaps the gravity of the moment will stanch his loquacity as he undertakes to reconcile liberalism and scarcity.

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