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

It seems unlikely that a life-altering radio broadcast would be forgotten so easily. But Green maintains that whatever it was paled in importance next to what he felt inside. “I guess I was just looking for an excuse,” he says. “I really just thought I could make a difference. I wanted to run.”

More importantly, the timing was right. His daughter, Avery, 17, and son William, 15, wouldn’t be “political orphans.” “They’re old enough,” says Councilman Green, “that they are their own people. They’ve established their identities apart from me.”

He also felt a sudden urgency when he realized that his father’s name was disappearing from the public mind. “He actually called it the ‘Bill Green brand,’” says Oxman, “and he understood that if he was going to gain any kind of advantage from name recognition, he needed to run now. I thought that was very pragmatic.”

Green does demonstrate a native understanding of politics — a practical streak that also led him to enlist the help of Johnny Dougherty, the electricians union boss, on his subsequent campaign. Dougherty, associated more with hard-knock politics than good and gracious government, would seem an unlikely ally for a reformer. The Inquirer has claimed that Dougherty is under investigation by the FBI and IRS. But his union’s help is powerful at the polls — and partly responsible for Green’s first-place finish among the at-large candidates in the general election. “You have to win,” says Green, “in order to make a difference.”  

In return, Green has been loyal, perhaps too loyal, to his most powerful political patron. His mini dust-up at that ­Liberty City event could easily be interpreted as an effort to support his benefactor, who is now running for Fumo’s seat. And he stuck his own credibility on the line when he told the Inquirer that Dougherty is “more honest than Lincoln.”

 “Let’s just say there was a little hyperbole in that statement,” the Councilman says now, laughing momentarily and then mounting some defense. “All I’ve ever experienced in my dealings with Johnny is straightforward and honest talk.”

Green’s father wholeheartedly supports his son. “Johnny Dougherty helped him win,” says the elder Green. “My son should be loyal to him.”

Unseemly? Maybe a little. But these are politicians. This is a political ­family — Boss Green begat Mayor Green begat Councilman Green — and politics brought them closer together.

“Probably for the first time in my adult life,” says Councilman Green, “since I’ve gone through the experience of running for Council and starting to serve, my father and I have an adult relationship. He listens to me as much as I listen to him. It’s been a great experience.”

WHEN MAYOR BILL Green’s father died, the news reverberated throughout the nation, and a still-grieving Jackie Kennedy penned the following note:

Dec. 23, 1963

Dear Mrs. Green,

Please know how heartbroken I am for you — what a way for this year to end. There isn’t anything I can say to console you. I don’t think Jack would have been President without Billy Green. Maybe they will find each other — I hope so — though it isn’t exactly the way I picture heaven. But we who are so deprived want all the best for them. It was each to their credit that they loved and admired each other. And they can be proud at how their wives will miss them. I send you all my love and sympathy,


Jackie Kennedy

Today, that note is in the possession of Mayor Bill Green, who gets a little choked up poring over it, and who clearly counts his relationship with Boss Green among his most cherished accomplishments. “There was a time,” he remembers, his voice rising with excitement, “when my father realized he could count on me.”

Green was attending St. Joseph’s University when his father asked him for a favor. Perennial Republican presidential candidate Harold Stassen had been attacking the Congressman, accusing him of nepotism. “He said my father had put 17 Greens on the public payroll,” Green says today, “which simply wasn’t true. I had a couple of uncles, I think, with jobs they were qualified for.”