When I ask Greene about Blackwell Homes, he launches into an explanation of planning and applications for funding from the city, state and federal government, and dealing with myriad political players, and “You’ve got to deal with the planning commission, deal with the water department, streets department, Licenses and Inspections, gotta deal with the Redevelopment Authority if you’re using land they own …. ”
Listening to this — which is just the tip of the iceberg — I have two reactions. One is how amazingly complicated these projects are. The other is how Greene clearly slipped into the fray of rebuilding public housing as if entering a warm bath. It’s where he lives — or lived. It was his life and his lifeline. And he was still pushing, at Blackwell Homes — pitching schools head Arlene Ackerman on building a community center and a dorm near a high school where disadvantaged kids might live — until his world fell apart.
THE GREAT AND THE UGLY don’t reside as two separate parts of Carl Greene. While it’s tempting to divide him in two, the driven housing czar who’s a mess of a person, it’s really the case that Greene, like the rest of us, is a jumble of his best and worst.
I heard a story about Greene losing control a few years back, when he brought in consultants to teach senior staff how to constructively criticize each other. The consultants had each of the 25 or so people in the conference room write his name on a piece of paper. The papers were put into a hat. An employee would draw a name, go up to that person, and deliver a critique of his workplace performance.
The lawyer who drew Carl Greene’s name told him that he was a great, inspirational leader, but that it would be nice if he could be a little … a little less demanding. A little more sensitive and understanding of others. And that she wished he wouldn’t yell so much.
Greene accepted this with equanimity. Or seemed to. But after a lunch break, he dismissed the consultants early and commandeered the microphone. He spoke for an hour and a half, his annoyance escalating into rage. He yelled and ranted, spit flying from his mouth, as he lashed into the lawyer for attacking him. “A good organization doesn’t have people criticizing each other …. What do you mean, I yell too much? Where does that come from? Who said I yell too much?”