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

"THERE WAS A long time when I thought I’d never get involved in politics,” Bill Green the Councilman says. “I was familiar with the sacrifices my father made and that our family had to make, the hours he spent working, the lack of patience he had sometimes when things weren’t going right. And I just didn’t want that.”

Like his father, Councilman Green was an eldest child who knew no life outside of being the son of a very public father. Unlike his father, he didn’t immediately embark on the same career path as his dad. In fact, at age 19, he told his parents he was quitting college at St. Joe’s and moving overseas. “I wasn’t happy,” remembers Mayor Green. “I said to him, ‘Bill, you don’t just move overseas. You need working papers, a place to live and a J-O-B.’”

“Dad,” his son replied, “I’ve just been to the British embassy. I got working papers. I have an apartment lined up, and I’ve got five job interviews scheduled.”

“I think,” the elder Green says today, “he left because he needed to get away from me.”

Once outside Philadelphia, the younger Green realized why he’d departed.  “I left to figure out who I was,” he says. “Being the mayor’s son has its advantages. People know who you are. When you’re a kid, people are nicer to you than they are to other kids. But the corollary of that is, if they don’t like your father, they don’t like you.  You’re never defined as your own person.”

Green set out to create his own ­identity — a journey that’s lasted much of his adult life. And while it may seem that the Greens parted company, it was actually an experience they shared. Each was the eldest child of a powerful father, and each shook off the family calling at some point.

Mayor Green left politics at 45 years old, spending the next 20-odd years in relative privacy. Councilman Green spent 20 years in the obscurity of the working world, only to become a Councilman at the age of 42.

Along the way he traded stocks, worked for financial services companies, earned a law degree, and worked for a corporate securities firm. He lived in London, Amsterdam, New York, Atlanta and Philadelphia, where he finally settled down in 2004. In London he met his wife, Margie, with whom he has two kids, including a fifth Bill Green. (“Why do we keep naming kids Bill Green?” he asks. “Because we’re still trying to get it right.”)  

He demonstrated some interest in politics over the years, helping to write policy papers during Ed Rendell’s 1991 mayoral run. But even he confesses to some surprise that he ever decided to run for office. “There was no single, revelatory moment,” he says. “I guess I just decided — if you believe you can help, as I believe I can, don’t you also have a responsibility to?”

Of course, he turned to his father, and to his dad’s old advisers, like David Glancey and consultant Neil Oxman. The consensus at a meeting they held in the fall of 2006 in the basement of Philadelphia’s Racquet Club wasn’t optimistic. Oxman set the younger Green’s chances of winning at 30 or 40 percent. The Bill Green name was famous mostly among Philadelphians 55 and older, too narrow a slice of the electorate to guarantee victory. Both father and son left that day figuring it was over — the Green name snuffed out by time and inactivity. But a few months later, in January 2007, Green heard something on the radio. He says he doesn’t remember what — just that it involved city politics. And it pissed him off. He had a talk with his wife. He called his dad. And suddenly, he was in.