07/30/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Running For Office, New York Style

My friend and Air America colleague, Scott Elberg, often says to me that he "can't imagine running for office and subjecting myself and my family to the abuse." Another friend asks, "why jump back in the meat grinder?"

The simple answer, as family and colleagues will confirm, is that I love public service, politics less so... And if the risk of loss and the anxiety of always being poised between adoration and humiliation in a campaign is the price of service, I'll pay it. I don't run to run, but to serve.

I entered this contest for Public Advocate, the City's ombudsman and #2 office city-wide, expecting to be subject to seven months of hazing by rivals and anonymous critics with axes to grind and sloppy reporters to quote them... and then be told what a great guy I am should I win this Fall. Been there, done that -- toast of the town, then toast. I try not to inhale either excessive praise or excessive attacks in order to focus on the reward of holding a great office to expose, solve, propose, legislate and litigate.

Voters and politicians have very different mind sets. Voters are almost without exception nice and positive -- oh Mark Green, you were a really good advocate... Thank you ma'am. Politicians and press, well, less so. I was reminded of this in April as I began to speak to a Democratic club forum. One of my competitors openly barked at an aide, "tape him! tape him!", hoping I guess for a flip flog, faux pas, a Macaca moment. He was inadvertently embodying the headline of a recent the New York Observer blog, "Who Will Destroy Mark Green?", a piece which presumed that someone(s) would have to personally attack the presumed leading candidate in order to get in a run-off.

So don't weep for me Scott. I'm having fun, learning as I go, happy to be taped, and focusing less on the journey and more on the destination of again serving the City I love during hard times.


The only way to get on the ballot for municipal office is to get the required number of signatures from your party's voters, which is 7500 for Public Advocate between June 9 and July 11. (Although you need a multiple of that since some folks wrongly sign.)

While a Michael Bloomberg doesn't have to hit the pavements himself since his paid staff can gather signatures, I've always personally petitioned along with lots of volunteers and others because it's actually fun and informative.

You really learn a lot about the City and yourself when you spend hours on the street vulnerable to any comments, to 9/11 conspirators to the elements (rain is as helpful to petitioners/candidates as it is to golfers at the Open in Bethpage this week).

So over the course of a day at the Parsons/Archer Jamaica Center Station, then at Fairway Market on 74th and Broadway and finally in Park Slope, I get an earful.

"Oh, you cut yourself shaving," was my favorite, which I hadn't realized until I was told. I hear a lot about parental involvement/mayoral control in schools, landlord-tenant issues, Bloomberg's undemocratic move against term-limits...but the #1 topic by far is the "circus" in Albany when the Republicans in a surprise move last week sought to retake majority control. (I later see Majority Leader Malcolm Smith at the Puerto Rican Day Parade and he says with a smile and poise, "well, I'm more famous than you this week!")

And I get frequently asked, "What are you running for?"

"Public Advocate again."


"Loved it, love public service, let the voters decide if I can help more."

"Sure I'll sign."

Again and again and again. And a few thousand times a day I ask, "Are you a registered Democrat?" to passersby (one woman answered, "No I'm a prostitute). So if you're allergic to repetition, a political campaign is not for you, not for you. And if you're sensitive to rejection, street campaigning is certainly not for you. If 19 out of 20 ignore you, that's a good day.

So four hours and three petition stops later, we add 'em up. 369 signatures. "And miles to go before we sleep, And miles to go before we sleep."


NYC is not only one city as 324 square miles of communities. Each of us needs to be bonded with others where we dine, worship, walk, go to the movies.

I'm reminded of this one evening last month when I visit the Grand Council of Guardians "Women's History Month Awards Celebration" at the Adam Clayton Powell State Office Building in Harlem, then the Staten Island Democratic Association at The Roadhouse Restaurant, and last to a Brooklyn Dems dinner.

There were some 125 attendees at the Guardians celebration, mostly African American women connected to the corrections system. I worked with them when I was Public Advocate and -- being one of two or three white members of the audience -- they seem pleased that we are all sharing moments with the honorees.

For those who question the values of proclamations with inscriptions, they should visit events where people radiate with pride when acknowledged for their efforts. None more than Vivian Squires, an 81 year old from Queens who warded off attackers recently and whose three sentences of appreciation were warm and to the point. Children beamed, mothers applauded, and the community of black women who serve their city in law enforcement so well were reminded of their special bond.

Then off to SIDA -- a group both proudly liberal and skeptical of "The City," which to them means Manhattan. The restaurant room is crammed with some 60 members and the smell of spaghetti with meat sauce wafts over the speeches. (Don't know about you but I have a hard time concentrating when I'm hungry and everyone else is eating.) Given time constraints, I frequently referred folks to for answers to long questions.

And then I attended a "Shabbat Across America" dinner at Temple Israel in south Brooklyn to honor Bernie Catcher, a legendary and seriously ill Democratic district leader. There are probably 350 people crammed into the dinner space, with dignitaries including County leader and Assemblyman Vito Lopez, Councilman Lew Fidler, State Senator John Sampson...but the tribute from former Assemblyman Frank Seddio brought down the house. He was funny and cutting in ways I shouldn't repeat in a family blog, ending with "that's why we love you Bernie, but more importantly respect you."

Three events. Three communities. One New York.