You’ve Got Friends: Why Mark Green Can I.M. AOL


THE NEW YORK OBSERVER

July 23, 2001

By James Verini and Alexandra Wolfe

Mark Green, the Mayoral candidate, was in the lobby of 55 Broad Street on Monday, June 25, working up a frothy pitch about the Internet, technology, high-speed access.

“We have to expand broadband,” the Democratic candidate said at the campaign stop. “The next Mayor has to sit down with Verizon and AOL Time Warner and do a survey right away, and then make sure that all businesses and families in our city have broadband and I.S.P. connections.”

Mr. Green’s staff had chosen the setting to emphasize his coziness with New York’s business and technology honchos — and to give him a chance to show off his big plans for a fully wired city, lorded over by a city tech guru.

But the companies Mr. Green named that afternoon seemed to be carefully selected as well. While AOL Time Warner would have occurred to any Mayoral candidate talking about the Internet that day, Mr. Green had an added incentive to bring them up: He has important friends there.

Or as his spokesman, Joe DePlasco, put it: “Mark Green has a lot of support at AOL.”

Ken Lerer, the executive vice president, is a former roommate. Bob Friedman, president of AOLTV, is a close friend, as is Richard Bressler, the former chief financial officer of Time Warner Inc. who’s now the chief financial officer of Viacom. And if that wasn’t enough, Mr. Green’s wife, Deni Frand, is a vice president at the AOL Time Warner Foundation.

Sources in the company also said that Bob Pittman (co — chief operating officer of the company and one of the founders of MTV), Michael Lynton (president of AOL Time Warner International) and Neil Davis (vice president of interactive marketing) are all Green supporters.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Pittman said: “Bob Pittman is a friend and admirer of Mark Green,” although she said that Mr. Pittman is not supporting him. The other two did not return calls for comment.

Part of the support is related to Mr. Green’s background, and the kinds of acquaintances he made at Harvard and through Nader’s Raiders, public service and other runs for higher office. Part comes from being on the New York social scene, connecting with many young, similarly ambitious players along the way.

“A lot of his old friends are now in very senior positions” in New York media, said one executive at AOL Time Warner. “We were 25 years old building cable, and as we grew up, Mark was growing up. Then new media came around. Now you’re looking and you’re saying, ‘Jesus, there are seven company presidents who are friends with him!'”

Part of the support is also related to the personality of AOL Time Warner — and, indeed, the personality of other new-media and entertainment companies in the uniquely liberal (at least on social issues) business community of New York.

“People grow and evolve over time, and I think Mark has,” said one AOL Time Warner executive, referring to Mr. Green’s amicable relationship with business. “New York is a better place for many of the pro-business things that have happened during the last administration, and I think Mark recognizes this. But he also stands for not ignoring the pro-social things.”

Still, AOL Time Warner executives insist that no company-wide endorsement exists.

“He’s one of my best friends and I love him dearly, and I hope he becomes Mayor,” said Mr. Lerer. “But,” he added, “there’s no institutional support.”

Indeed, the upper ranks of Viacom’s companies are also rife with Friends of Mark: Andrew Rasiej, a Silicon Alley fixture, is his point man on technology. And Mr. Green’s liaison to Wall Street is none other than Bruce Wasserstein, the legendary banker.

Sources at AOL Time Warner also cited as Mark backers Matt Blank, chief executive officer of Showtime; Tom Rogers, chairman and chief executive of Primedia; Judy McGrath, president of MTV; Tom Freston, chairman of MTV Networks; and John Sykes, president of VH1. All of those people declined to comment for this article.

Some of these connections were made during Mr. Green’s years as New York’s consumer-affairs chief, some as Public Advocate, some because he was often front, center and outspoken on social and economic issues that affected the quality of life in the city — and kept his profile in the media.

“He’s been around a long time,” said Mr. Lerer. “He’s won a few things, he’s lost a few things and he’s gotten to know a lot of people.”

But Mr. Green’s connections to AOL Time Warner are particularly extensive, and particularly important given his campaign themes.

In addition to putting the city’s government bureaucracy online — “transforming city government into E-government,” as the press release reads — Mr. Green wants to speed along the languishing initiative to create a Board of Education portal and provide free at-home Internet access to every public-school student and teacher in New York. To sell such involved plans to the City Council, he’ll need more than the services of the city’s largest Internet, telephone and cable companies; he’ll also need to show that the project has their support.

The Board of Education sent out a request for proposals for the portal project last year and is now selecting vendors.

“The other candidates probably don’t even know what the Portal I.S.P. project is,” said Mr. Rasiej, who first met Mr. Green in the early 1990’s when he owned the club Irving Plaza and butted heads over street posters with the then Commissioner of Consumer Affairs. “Mark has been thinking about technology and talking to technologists about New York for five or six years now … The technology community is behind him.”

Mr. Rasiej said that Mr. Green’s plan not only is to employ certain companies to install servers and cables, but to make “partnerships” with corporate “donors” who would take an active role in teaching the technology to students.

But Mr. Rasiej emphasized that “Mark is completely unaware of the bidders,” referring to the Board of Ed’s proposal request. “I can’t imagine AOL not being happy” about Mr. Green’s ideas, Mr. Rasiej said, “but I can almost completely assure you that no one at AOL has talked to Mark about it.”

Deni Frand, Mr. Green’s wife, also claimed that communication between her husband and her company has been minimal.

“I am excited about him advocating on these issues, but I really haven’t been part of his policy planning and thinking,” she said. A vice president at the AOL Time Warner Foundation, Ms. Frand specializes in public-education initiatives involving the Internet.

Mr. Green’s AOL friends have been helpful in raising money for him. Last year, Mr. Lerer co-chaired a fund-raiser for Mr. Green with Messrs. Friedman, Blank and Bressler. Mr. Bressler declined to comment. Also last year, Mr. Friedman co-hosted a fund-raiser with film and television producer Steven Haft (Dead Poets Society, Jakob the Liar).

Mr. Lerer met Mr. Green in 1974, when they were working on the Senatorial campaign of civil-rights lawyer Ramsey Clark. Mr. Green was an idealistic young attorney working for Ralph Nader; Mr. Lerer was Mr. Clark’s deputy campaign manager. Although Mr. Clark lost, the two men hit it off, became roommates and even met their wives together. Unlike his friend, Mr. Lerer got out of politics and, in the early 1980’s, went to work for Time Warner. Later he started a corporate communications consultancy, left that in the mid-1990’s to go to AOL, and now finds himself back, merged with his old employer, in New York. Mr. Lerer has gradually moved his way up the corporate ranks, all the while staying close with Mr. Green.

“Mark has a lot of relationships throughout the entertainment and information business in New York,” said one executive at AOL Time Warner. “Here’s why: These are people who didn’t want to move to L.A. They are die-hard New Yorkers, as is Mark.”

Utah Sex, Drug Scandal Stirs the Troops at CSFB

Credit Suisse First Boston’s morning call on June 21 was going along just fine: the analysts doing their usual bland run-down, the troops on the receiving end casually throwing down cups of caffeine. And then, into their midst, there came one of those spit-out-the-coffee moments.

By the way, reported an analyst whose group includes the Zions Bancorporation of Utah, the bank’s C.F.O. has been arrested. On sex and drug charges. It was news, gossip, scandal, and the troops — hardened New York bankers though they are — feasted upon it for the rest of the day.

Zions Bancorporation is a Mormon bank, founded by Brigham Young himself. Its chief financial officer, 41-year-old Dale Gibbons, had been charged with felony counts of methamphetamine possession, dealing in material harmful to a minor and endangering a child.

The police apparently had been brought into the case by Mr. Gibbons himself, who had called 911 on Monday, July 11, after finding his 19-year-old girlfriend and 15-year-old daughter nearly comatose from what police thought was an overdose of either ketamine, an animal anesthetic also known as Special K, or GHB, a date-rape drug.

“He said his 19-year-old girlfriend tried to commit suicide because she had been raped four hours earlier, but he’d been with her all night,” said Salt Lake City Police Sergeant Darren Carr. Further, Sgt. Carr said, Mr. Gibbons had been uncooperative on the phone with 911. Asked “Is she breathing?”, Mr. Gibbons allegedly replied, “I don’t know.” They advised him to administer C.P.R. and learned later that he hadn’t. “He didn’t want to touch her,” said Sergeant Carr.

When police arrived, they allegedly found the girlfriend naked, sprawled on a bed. A video camera and tripod were set up nearby.

Mr. Gibbon’s daughter was found passed out in another bedroom — along with seven hard-core porn magazines, several spent nitrous-oxide containers and rave beads personalized with the name “Dale” on them, police said.

Police also said they found a gram of methamphetamine in Mr. Gibbon’s night stand.

Police said neighbors had been complaining of large, noisy parties. “Underage kids started showing up passed out on neighbors’ lawns,” said Sgt. Carr. Police also said Mr. Gibbons would pull up to nightclubs in a stretch Jaguar limo with a license plate that read “ROLLING” — “basically advertising Ecstasy,” Sergeant Carr charged.

Mr. Gibbons has hired Robert Shapiro, formerly of the O.J. Simpson “Dream Team,” to defend him. Mr. Gibbons is free on bail, which was originally set at $200,000, but lowered to $75,000 on July 12.

“We’re convinced of our client’s innocence,” said Sara Caplan, a member of the Shapiro firm.

Mr. Gibbons, who’d been at the bank since 1996 and was responsible for $21 million in assets, was immediately suspended. He resigned on June 28, saying in a statement: “I regret reaching this decision at this time; but I feel strongly that I must put my personal considerations and those of my family first … As an innocent man, my focus must be on the court proceedings ahead.” The next scheduled court date is Aug. 14.

Meanwhile, those jaded New York traders and analysts were titillated by the story — but not tainted. An analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston, whose group deals with the Zion stock, said: “We think Mr. Gibbons is a key component of the management team, but until they say what his long-term future is, we’ll know better” whether or not to downgrade the stock.

In fact, the stock went up after the arrest — from $56.24 on June 11 to $57.67 on June 25. It closed on Monday, July 16, at $57.84.