Green Genes

They are the first family of Philly politics, having given us a dominant party boss (Bill Jr.), an enigmatic mayor (Bill III), and now a feisty new Council member (Bill IV). But in the Green family, the real drama has always been between fathers and sons

AT AN EVENING meet-the-candidates session for State Senate, Bill Green proves he is his father’s son. The first-term City Councilman has come to the Ethical Society on Rittenhouse Square for a function thrown by the Liberty City LGBT Democratic Club, and is using the opportunity to pepper one of State Senator Vince Fumo’s aides with questions. “Is Senator Fumo committed to serving four years?” he asks, standing in the crowd.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Fumo’s aide, Ed Hanlon, replies.

“What about the indictment?” Green shoots back.

“I don’t think that’s an appropriate thing to talk about,” responds Hanlon. “We want to talk about the issues.”

Just hours from now, Fumo will withdraw from the race to focus on the 139-count federal indictment he faces. This entire conversation will be rendered moot. What’s memorable about it is the way Bill Green stands up in an open forum and tries to commandeer the floor, the way he turns a pizza-and-beer political event into his own personal grandstand. “Is Senator Fumo committed to serving four years?” he asks again. The crowd seems a little uncomfortable.

Between his refusal to accept any pat answers and his sheer size, the new City Councilman is hard to ignore. He is six-foot-three and 220 pounds, yet appears even larger. The great, thick shelf of hair on his head adds a couple of inches to his height. In less antagonistic conversations he laughs frequently, in guffaws that cannon from his mouth and charge the air. His nose is large and toboggan-shaped, as if to part the air before him. And his eyes are wide and familiar — tinted windows to the city’s past.

His father, Bill Green III, served as both a U.S. Congressman and one of Philadelphia’s most colorful, combative mayors. His grandfather, Bill Green Jr., served in Congress and as this city’s legendary Democratic party boss. There was a long period during which Councilman Bill Green needed to escape from all this history. But since winning elected office last fall, the now-43-year-old has claimed his place in the family line.

This is a story about fathers and sons. This is a story about a great many Bill Greens. This is a story about what is arguably the First Family of Philadelphia politics, and the manner in which this newest Bill Green has burst on the scene, proposing a handful of incendiary ideas that earn him comparisons to his reform-minded father, and staunch opposition — also just like his dad.

Look at what he did at Liberty City, suggested a pair of Green’s opponents a week after the event. He wouldn’t sit down. Someone had to take his beer away. The insinuations are clear, but also complete B.S. Two of the people in the room that night, Liberty City co-chair Ray Murphy and State Senate candidate Anne Dicker, say Green may have been a tad “obnoxious.” But he was also “stone-cold sober,” and his questions were “clear and cutting.”

Of course, what matters isn’t what Bill Green’s enemies are saying. What matters is that just two months into his public-service career, Bill Green has enemies.

Maybe it isn’t fair to foist the weight of history on a man, to pass great expectations from father to son. And maybe it’s naive to welcome the return of a political dynasty. But Bill Greens have tended to leave this city a better place than they found it, and their story is a reminder that more than money is passed from generation to generation. This latest Green only chose to raise the family crest in middle age, far later in life than his father, but he found it still waiting for him, a shared legacy.