Deciding on the best candidate in a Democratic primary is a painful process because it almost always a choice among fundamentally decent people. Moreover, defeating Michael Bloomberg is no easy task. His achievements are real and his money magnifies their significance.
My choice is Gifford Miller for mayor.
I write as an experienced and close observer, not a disinterested one. I worked in the City Council when Miller was speaker and saw him in action. I have retired and no longer have any financial ties to him nor have I lobbied him. But I support him and made contributions to him at gay fund-raisers. I respect his judgment and his aggressiveness.
Anybody who thinks Gifford Miller is a pretty boy with important parents doesn’t understand politics on Manhattan’s East Side or how he has managed to become a leader of New York City Democrats. Being well connected is too common in his neighborhood to guarantee success. You have to produce to get ahead.
Miller like all good leaders works well with his others. He was elected speaker with the support of Queens Leader Tommy Manton, a conservative Democrat who controls his large and diverse borough. Miller was elected speaker by his fellow councilmembers who ran the gamut from hard-edged lefties to conservatives who would be comfortable in the Republican Party and whose districts routinely support Republicans.
I make no apologies for my liberal sympathies, and a major reason I support Gifford Miller is that he is unafraid of left-wing proposals. In this. he differs markedly from Democrats like Ed Koch and Republicans like Rudolf Giuliani who attach great importance to opposing the left.
In a city government run by Gifford Miller, the left’s proposals will get a respectful hearing. No guarantees of support, but also no sharp attacks and abuse. This represents the major differences between him and Anthony Weiner. Weiner is on the more conservative side of the Democratic Party, and he is as sharp tongued as they come.
One of the real achievements of Gifford Miller and Mayor Michael Bloomberg jointly was to increase city revenues. They passed an 18.5 percent property tax hike giving the city money to run city programs. The federal government will not be generous for the foreseeable future. George W. Bush is not going to pay New York City’s bills. The Southern and rural state Republicans who control Congress also will be tight fisted. Weiner’s opposition to the tax increase would lead to tight budgets and limited city programs.
Do AIDS services and prevention ring a bell? Is minimizing delays at city venereal disease clinics a sound public health measure? These are only two of the city programs where federal support is fragile. The city must be prepared to provide local funds. Weiner’s pledge of tax cuts and government frugality is the wrong strategy for New York City. And this is especially true for sexual minorities who are under attack at the federal level and must depend on local government for assistance. Bloomberg, the Republican, and Miller, the Democrat, understand this fiscal reality. Weiner should be able to figure it out.
Virginia Fields and Fernando Ferrer are arguably more liberal than Gifford Miller, but it not completely obvious. The big difference to my mind between Miller and Fields and Ferrer relates to their leadership skills. I have watched Ferrer hesitate and calculate. Four years ago Ferrer couldn’t easily say he would choose Dinkins as the best mayor in response to a hypothetical question. This year, he couldn’t tell police sergeants that the 1999 police shooting of Amadou Diallo was a crime. I believe Ferrer lacks the confidence to handle controversy and overcome opposition.
Virginia Fields also shies away from controversy. It would be hard to imagine her taking the rigid stand that Bloomberg took when he banned smoking in bars. It would also be hard to imagine her intimidating her enemies and compelling them to endorse her policies. She certainly had troubles running her campaign staff and failed to maintain a working relationship with veteran political consultant Joseph Mercurio
Gifford Miller’s mistake are the fruits of aggressiveness. I have no satisfactory explanation for why he claimed that a $1.6 million expenditure for a City Council mailing cost $37,000, and a satisfactory explanation may be impossible. However, 200 years ago political campaigns conducted by the founding fathers were harsh and vitriolic, and today’s political campaigns remain ferocious. Let us remember that Bloomberg sent $400 property tax rebates to voters. Electioneering with governmental funds is a controversial practice but it shows that Miller knows how to fight—a quality essential in a strong mayor.
But Gifford Miller has also been a strong advocate of gay rights, and not just a safe advocate. He added transgendered New Yorkers to those groups protected by the city human rights law. He is a strong supporter of the Dignity in All Schools Act that would protect students from bullying. He passed it over the mayor’s veto. There are no ifs and buts in Miller’s support of gay marriage.
The big difference between Miller and Bloomberg would be on a whole range of issues that separate Democrats and Republicans. Had Miller been mayor there would have been no Republican Convention in New York City, and if there were one, then a visible demonstration would have been allowed to occur.
There would have been no attempts to raid the treasury of the MTA to build a football stadium. Central Park would be available for an occasional mass gathering. The failures by Governor George Pataki and the Bush administration would be attacked.
Gifford Miller could be part of the revival of the Democratic Party. The Republican Party opposes virtually everything that our community stands for.