By Danielle Douglas
Regarded by many as the second-most powerful politician in New York City, City Council Speaker Gifford Miller is banking on his legislative record to catapult him into the mayoral office. As City Council Speaker since 2002, Miller created the city’s first Earned-Income Tax Credit, passed the first living-wage law and required the removal of lead paint dust from city dwellings. Still, the 35-year-old candidate has had a rather poor showing in the polls, continually lagging behind former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, the democratic front-runner, and Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields. However, Miller remains confident that his demonstrated skills as a political leader will make him the standout come September 11th. Nevertheless, with the Democratic Primary less than a month away, the Upper East Side resident must present a platform that not only caters to the needs of the city’s diverse populations, but also distinguishes him from his opponents. Speaking at a recent Independent Press Association event, the mayoral hopeful attempted to do just that.
“We live in a city with enormous disparities in communities of color in terms of jobs and job access and I have a specific plan to address that by building on the Workforce Development Initiative [created in the City Council],” said Miller. In May of this year, the United Way and the City Council, under Miller’s direction, launched a $10 million dollar program, NYC Works, targeting chronic unemployment in low-income neighborhoods. Miller is using the initiative, which will award grants ranging from $100,000 to $700,000 to nonprofit groups to create innovative ways to help the chronically unemployed obtain and retain jobs as the basis of his unemployment strategy. While the plan is noble, it appears that the candidate is passing the problem off to the nonprofit sector instead of having the Mayor’s office tackle the problem head on.
Like his Democratic contenders, Miller cites education as the key element to decreasing the staggering unemployment rates within communities of color. “When we’re failing 550,000 children and the schools are predominantly made up of children of color there is a connection between the disparities in terms of jobs and the failure of our school system.”
In many ways, Gifford Miller’s education plan closely resembles that of Fernando Ferrer’s. Like Ferrer, Miller wants to reduce class sizes, recruit and retain quality teachers, return disciplinary control to principals, expand after-school programs and use technology to keep parents informed. The only real differences in the aforementioned initiatives are the qualitative goals set by each candidate; while Ferrer hopes to add 66,000 new classroom seats, Miller seeks to reduce class sizes by 20 percent.
The greatest distinction between the two candidates’ platforms is the means by which they will be funded. Ferrer’s controversial School Investment Program, which seeks to reestablish the stock transfer tax – a sales tax on purchased stocks, is his primary financial solution. Technically, this plan depends upon the willingness of the state legislators to reestablish the transfer tax; a highly unlikely feat. Miller, on the other hand, wants to cancel the upcoming tax cut for those who make more than $500,000, in order to use the $400 million in revenue to lower class sizes.
Walking the political tightrope, Miller praised the NYPD’s contribution in making New York one of the safest big cities, as he indirectly addressed poor police relationships with communities of color, calling for the expansion of the Cadet Corps Program to diversify the force. One of the few standouts in Miller’s rather unimaginative program (increase salaries and hire more cops) is the creation of community courts in every borough. The courts will provide low-level offenders the help they need instead of recycling them through the court system.
With heightened concerns of terrorist attacks on our subway system, Miller’s safety program primarily focuses on subway security. The Speaker intends to create a task force headed by the NYPD and accountable to the mayor to launch the following subway upgrades: install 9-1-1 phones in stations and tunnels, install repeaters throughout the subway system to enable emergency responders to communicate, modernize the system to enable tracking of every train and install a subway notification system to alert passengers on what to do in case of emergencies. To pay for his proposed upgrades, Miller wants to reinstitute the Progressive Commuter Tax on those who work in the city but live elsewhere.
Of all of Miller’s proposed initiatives, his Housing Tax Credit is by far the most distinctive. He has proposed the creation of a renter’s tax credit, totaling 3 percent of annual rent for renters earning up to $100,000 and do not qualify for the Earned-Income Tax Credit. The credit would range from $180 to $1,000, and would be paid for by getting funds from the state’s Star program, a house credit which tends to primarily benefit homeowners. Miller also proposed doubling the city’s Earned-Income Tax Credit by billing the state after a year for the cost of housing inmates before trial, which Miller estimates will bring in $75 million.
Beyond tax credits, the candidate seeks to continue his City Council efforts to preserve Section 8 and Mitchell-Lama Housing, stating, “Any plan for affordable housing has to be about preserving existing affordable housing, and unfortunately, we are losing tens of thousands of affordable housing units each year,” said Miller.
He also intends to use the Battery Park city fund to create more affordable housing as well as institute inclusionary zones, allowing developers to use more density if it is used for the creation of affordable housing.
Of all of the candidates running for mayor, Gifford Miller does have the most experience in the legislative arena, serving on the City Council for the last nine years and overseeing some of the body’s most progressive initiatives. The question remains will voters, many of whom could not recognize Miller on the street, remember that on Primary Day.