April 24, 2002: Class Notes
Photo by Dan Luhmann
Following months of round-the-clock jockeying, Gifford Miller 92 is finally the second most powerful politician in New York City. A Democrat who has represented Manhattans Upper East Side on the City Council for six years, he was unanimously elected council speaker by his colleagues on January 9. That puts Miller in charge of the legislative body that has almost equal power to Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Boy-faced and full of youthful energy, Miller, a one-time politics major who is married to Pamela Addison 92, now has the lions share of input as the council votes on new laws, considers land-use issues, and allocates large sums of money. Theres a lot to do, says Miller, who worked as chief of staff for Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (DN.Y.) before running for his current position.
One of Millers biggest challenges will be closing the citys $4-billion-plus budget deficit. Weve lost thousands of jobs, he says. We face the largest budget gaps since the crisis of the mid-1970s. Miller has already started lobbying the state legislature to reinstate a commuter tax, which would hit up suburban residents who travel within city limits to make their livings. And he has slashed the stipends that City Council members get for serving on committees, a mostly symbolic, belt-tightening measure that reduced his own six-figure salary by $10,000. Miller also aims to redevelop the part of Manhattan devastated by the terrorist attacks, and to improve the citys public education system.
When the council gets around to social issues, Miller will push a liberal platform. He has consistently favored lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights, and once drafted legislation that would require the citys health care providers to offer contraception services in their benefit packages.
But getting legislation passed is tricky in Gotham. With the nations fourth-largest public budget only California, New York State, and the federal government have larger pots of money the 51-member City Council represents a city of 8,000,000 residents who speak more than 170 languages. To get the speakership, Miller carefully built a coalition of support among Latinos and African Americans, business people and labor unions, Brooklynites and Staten Islanders, Jews and Christians, even Democrats and Republicans. Now he has to keep that group together if he wants to get anything accomplished.
Time is not on Millers side. Due to a term-limit law that he helped pass, he will be forced out of office in two years. He cannot immediately seek re-election. But a lot can happen in two years in New York City, and Miller doesnt seem too worried about his future. Ive only been council speaker for three months now, and I want to focus entirely on that during these incredible times, he says. I love this city, and no matter what I do, Id like to continue contributing to it.
By Rob MacKay 89
Rob MacKay 89 edits the Times Newsweekly, a newspaper in Queens.