A few years ago, we learned that right-wing commentator Armstrong Williams, who had been noisily touting the virtues of "No Child Left Behind' on his radio program, was getting handsomely paid for his labors by the Bush administration's Department of Education. The liberal commentocracy went crazy, and rightly so. I wonder whether those same people will now direct some of their fire and ire at Mark Green, the former Public Advocate of New York.
This past September, the New York Times reported Sunday, Green received nearly $50,000 from Eliot Spitzer, Spitzer's mother, and Spitzer's father, all to help retire a campaign debt from the latest of his many unsuccessful races, this time in 2006 for New York State Attorney General. It's significant because, as the Times reported, Green regularly offers ostensibly independent analysis of the state political scene on television and in newspapers. For instance, he recently told the Daily News that his benefactor was "a tweak or two away from being a great governor."
I doubt Green said anything to the News reporter about his debt to the Spitzers. And my guess is reasonably educated, for it turns out that a few weeks after the Spitzers had bailed out Green, I interviewed him about the governor for a profile in Vanity Fair. I was struggling to find people to defend Spitzer, and someone suggested Green would. More than I could ever have expected, I had come to the right place.
With a little coaxing, or promises of anonymity, most politicians will trash one another. Paradoxically, it's all the more true the more alike they are, for politicians who are roughly the same age, with the same backgrounds and philosophies, usually have the same ambitions: Spitzer was sitting where Green had clearly wanted to be. I'd have expected particularly nastiness from Green, whose famous abrasiveness helped him to pull off the nearly impossible feat of running as a Democrat for the mayoralty of New York, and losing.
Instead, even though I'd been told Green liked Spitzer, I was struck by how unremittingly bullish on him he was. Sure, Spitzer was embattled, he said, what with charges that he's used the State Police to help bring down a rival. But, Green gushed, Spitzer was like that old Timex watch: he took a licking, but kept on ticking. "Troopergate" was a "so-called scandal," he went on, a "witch hunt"; siccing the police on the Republican majority leader of the State Senate, Joe Bruno, was the kind of thing that a thousand politicians do daily. The New York Post, which was driving Troopergate, must get ten such stories daily, he continued, but, for its own political reasons, was focusing solely on Spitzer. The scandal, he stated, would actually strengthen the governor. First, it would blow back on his enemies. Second, it would get him to tone down his legendary temper (the one that led him to describe himself to another political foe as a "a fucking steamroller.") Of course, Green described that temper more euphemistically than that, calling it "his occasional tendency to be too super-aggressive personally." In Green's eyes, Spitzer's flaws turned into something positive: sure, Spitzer's ambitions exceeded his accomplishments when he first ran for Attorney General, but "you gotta love a self-confident underdog." Even off-the-record, Green scolded the governor in only the mildest possible way.
Of course, Green did not tell me what he told the Times yesterday: that he and the governor had "been friends for years," who "always helped each other out politically." And naturally, there was not a word about all that money Spitzer had just lavished on him. Instead, the former Nader Raider, who's made a career out of assailing the lowly ethics of others, who's presumably called for full disclosure and transparency from various public officials, masqueraded as a neutral observer -- partisan, to be sure, but unbeholden. It was a lie, sort of like the one Armstrong Williams committed.
So why, the Times' Danny Hakim asked Green, hadn't his wealthy brother, Stephen, a real estate mogul who has bankrolled him throughout his public life, bailed him out this time, too? Here Green grew a little cagey, insisting that Stephen Green had already given the maximum allowed by law, but providing few details. "It's a family matter, but trust me on this," he said.