UNION CITY -- For several of the 19 years that Mark Green served as mayor of Union City, he had strong disagreements with Fremont Mayor Gus Morrison over proposed changes to state Route 84, a plan to build a major thoroughfare along the cities' border.
Green aggressively pushed for the project to accommodate Union City's growth. Morrison disagreed, saying it would push too much traffic onto Fremont streets. In 2004, before the plan was eventually shelved, Morrison retired and soon received a parting gift from Green: a T-shirt bearing the number 84, a reference to their epic battles over the roadway.
Now, Green's time as mayor is just about up. He has been termed out and, on Tuesday, Carol Dutra-Vernaci will replace him, ending the longest continuous mayoral tenure in Union City's history.
To his many supporters, his vision, quick decision-making and hard-charging manner -- coupled with his sharp-edged humor -- are political strengths that helped him win five consecutive mayoral elections.
"I always try to deal off the top of the deck, face up," Green said. "I've never been afraid to make a decision and then try to convince others."
Morrison still laughs at the T-shirt gag, and when he remembers having to sit between Green and Supervisor Scott Haggerty at regional commission meetings to keep the strong-willed pair from fighting.
"Mark's strongest point is his dedication and unswerving pursuit of his goal; it's also his worst fault," Morrison said. "He kind of steps on people when he does it; sometimes he would be so focused in those meetings on what he thought was right that he could not see the compromise that was there and was better."
Green admits that he tells people what he thinks. "I have complete contempt for politicians who hold their fingers in the air to judge which way the wind is blowing. What we need is for them to actually do something."
Colleagues such as Emily Duncan, a Union City councilwoman since 2010, said Green is "a visionary" and a man of action. "He can take volumes of data, synthesize it quickly and then come up with plan," she said.
Even those with whom he sometimes clashed say Green will be missed.
"He's one of the most effective elected officials in the Bay Area," Haggerty said.
He said Green often irritated him in the beginning of their work relationship, but grew to "tremendously" respect him when realizing he always used his intelligence and dedication to work for Union City, Alameda County and the region.
"He's persuasive; he's able to take a complex idea and break it down in real-world terms and articulate it all levels," Haggerty said. "Some will say he's not the most likable guy, but he's always able to bring about consensus from other or explain to them why they're wrong."
At public ceremonies, Green's frequently reveals playful side, with not-so-small doses of acidic humor. At a ribbon-cutting ceremony last month, he delivered verbal digs at state employees who were present and spoke of his beloved Los Angeles Dodgers, sparking groans from local San Francisco Giants fans. Green, never one to pander to a crowd, replied only with a devilish smirk.
Green, 59, settled in Union City in 1976. His first foray into politics was inauspicious, joining the Union City Redevelopment Advisory Committee in 1986. But he rose quickly. In 1993, he won a special election to replace Mayor Richard Oliver, who had been recalled.
Green quickly established a reputation for getting things done, guiding Union City as it built Union Landing shopping center and a state-of-the-art sports center, among other things. He also joined several regional commissions and advocated for transportation projects, such as bringing BART to Livermore and starting the first phases of Union City's BART Intermodal Station. He helped merged three agencies into the Alameda County Transportation Commission, which saved taxpayers about $3 million because it reduced duplication of salaries and work, Haggerty said.
Green's campaign to capture the District 2 county supervisor seat fell short last month, and he now is considering whether to accept job offers from the private sector. But he said he prefers to stay in politics, saying he will miss political meetings the most.
"That's where the action is, that's where the power is wielded," he said. "Those meetings aren't a dress rehearsal, they're opening night. If you're not there to use your power, then get out of office."
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.