You couldn’t watch Philadelphia City Council wrestle with a complicated property tax plan this spring without being impressed with the policy work of City Councilman Bill Green.
He did original research and analysis on the issue and exposed unexpected impacts of the proposed overhaul. He once sent me a spreadsheet he’d finished at 2 in the morning.
Green’s work was probably decisive in undermining Council’s support for Mayor Michael Nutter’s plan. Council ultimately postponed converting to market values for property taxes and adopted Green’s proposal to increase an obscure business tax. But while Green’s ideas had impact, he wasn’t a key player in the budget negotiations.
Ask anybody around City Hall, and they’ll tell you that Green is smart, but not the easiest guy to work with.
So the question occurs: Does Bill Green have the stuff to win a mayor’s race and be an effective leader for the city? He’s demonstrated intelligence, work ethic, and ambition. But does he have the patience and temperament to bring people together, recruit top talent, and engage the ideas and talents of others?
First, there’s simply no doubt Green plans to run for mayor. Ask him if he’ll run, and he says if he answered the question, he’d have to resign. He’s pointedly referring to a charter requirement that Philadelphia officials resign before becoming a candidate for another office. So he’s in.
Like his father, a mayor in the early ’80s, Green is smart and hardworking. I asked Council majority leader Curtis Jones during a break in the property tax deliberations if he thought Green’s research on the issue was valuable.
“I absolutely believe it is and continues to be,” Jones said.
But when I asked Jones if Green wasn’t on the inside of the budget negotiations because his colleagues didn’t like working with him, he would say only, “I think sometimes leadership is lonely.”
Fathers and sons
Green’s personality isn’t something his current colleagues want to discuss much on the record. Frank Rizzo, who lost renomination to his Council seat last year, doesn’t mind.
“He’s smart, but he needs to, I guess, improve upon his interpersonal skills with people,” Rizzo said in a telephone interview.
It’s something often heard about Green’s father, the former mayor. He rarely doubted himself and could strike people as abrasive or arrogant. Colleagues say similar things about Councilman Green — that he can’t help but make it clear that he’s the smartest guy in the room.
Rizzo says he found that the younger Green would be friendly only when he needed something.
“After I figured this out when I was working there, I hesitated to come to his aid or be supportive of him on issues because it was never clear to me whether it was to benefit the Council or city of Philadelphia or Bill Green,” Rizzo said.
It would be fair to note that Rizzo’s father preceded Green’s father in the mayor’s office, and they were often adversaries.
It’s also the case that Councilman Green has a significant record of substantive accomplishments after just five years in office. In some cases, he’s collaborated effectively with other members such as Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez on business tax reform.
“It has been my style the entire time I have been in Council, in fact, to share ideas and then to have as many people take ownership of that as possible,” Green said when I raised the issue of his approach during budget negotiations.
In further discussion and an email, Green admitted he isn’t what you’d call charming. But he said the city needs a leader who stands for something, not a happy glad-hander. He said leaders who are determined and willing to take risks may rub some the wrong way, but they can shake up bureaucracies and bring real change.
In the subject field of an email he sent about his record and temperament, Green wrote “Philly needs a fighter.”
A page from the Rendell playbook
When we spoke in May, Green says it didn’t bother him that Council members adopted his research and proposals on property taxes without giving him authorship. He referred to a popular Philadelphia mayor from the ’90s.
“Ed Rendell was successful because Ed Rendell was able to give everybody else credit for accomplishing things, and never took it upon himself,” Green said. “My view of leadership is accomplishing your end goal without having to take credit. And the more you’re willing to share, the more successful you’re going to be in accomplishing your end.”
But can Bill Green be nice enough, often enough? Rendell often said a mayor has to spend a lot of time being nice to, even flattering other politicians. And Rendell’s charm was often cited as an asset in recruiting talent to serve him at City Hall.
Green noted that he’s managed to recruit a staff widely regarded as talented and loyal.
He also acknowledged that he has “room for growth.”
Rizzo said that despite his own experience with Green, he wouldn’t sell his mayoral prospects short.
“You know, he’s popular, he’s smart,” Rizzo said. “He’s got a lot going for him. He’s young, and he’ll be a formidable candidate.”
Two of Green’s colleagues on Council, Democrats Jim Kenney and Blondell Reynolds Brown, are also considering a run for mayor. Others frequently mentioned as possible candidates are City Controller Alan Butkovitz, District Attorney Seth Williams, and state Sen. Anthony Williams.
The Democratic mayoral primary will be in the spring of 2015.