Adding the config.txt from a previous working installation made it work for me. It seems the recovery/installer comes right up without flashing the green light, but it didn't know about my monitor settings. Adding the config.txt allowed it to display and now it's installing. Thanks @room34 for the hint.
If you don't have a previous working version, use this default version, with safe mode enabled. After getting it going, read the config.txt instructions on the RPiconfig page to set the individual parameters that hdmi_safe enables to get better resolution for your monitor.
# uncomment if you get no picture on HDMI for a default "safe" mode
# uncomment this if your display has a black border of unused pixels visible
# and your display can output without overscan
# uncomment the following to adjust overscan. Use positive numbers if console
# goes off screen, and negative if there is too much border
# uncomment to force a console size. By default it will be display's size minus
# uncomment if hdmi display is not detected and composite is being output
# uncomment to force a specific HDMI mode (this will force VGA)
# uncomment to force a HDMI mode rather than DVI. This can make audio work in
# DMT (computer monitor) modes
# uncomment to increase signal to HDMI, if you have interference, blanking, or
# no display
# uncomment for composite PAL
#uncomment to overclock the arm. 700 MHz is the default.
# for more options see http://elinux.org/RPi_config.txt
The above allowed me to get the installer page to show up, but once the Raspbian install finished and I rebooted, I got a blank screen again. The first multi-color screen would appear, then a raspberry logo with no text, then the "press shift" screen, then nothing. But the green light was flashing so something was going on.
It took a bunch of attempts trying different things, then I finally realized that the new boot partition needed to get a config.txt put in it too. To do this, I had to run Puppy Linux on my primary machine so that I could see the additional partitions, since Windows will only work with the first partition on a flash drive. In Puppy (*) I copied the config.txt from the recovery partition to the boot partition, and then the monitor worked and I was able to get into my new installation.
(* any alternate Linux distro would work to do this, Puppy is just what I had on hand)