When Gifford Miller won the coveted position of City Council Speaker in 2002, he brought a golden-boy aura to the job: He’d gone from Fifth Avenue to Princeton to the City Council, with a stop as an aide in Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney’s office. At age 34, he had become the second-most-powerful elected official in the city and was seen as an intelligent and ambitious voice for Democrats while a Republican occupied City Hall. But the recent revelations that Mr. Miller handled accusations of sexual harassment against Queens Councilman Allan W. Jennings Jr. with less urgency and timeliness than the situation demanded have not helped Mr. Miller’s bright shining future. And that future is pressing down on the Speaker: Because of the term-limits law, he needs to find another job by the end of next year. The job he wants, of course, is that of Mayor.
What Councilman Jennings did, or did not, do or say in the presence of female staff members is still under investigation; he has denied the allegations. But the question of what did Mr. Miller know, and when did he know it, has left the impression that the Speaker is, at best, out of his depth when dealing with fallout from hot-button political issues and, at worst, putting the public image of the Council ahead of getting to the truth of serious accusations.
The story was stirred up last week, when a September 2002 memo from a female Council lawyer surfaced, in which she recounts a conversation about Mr. Jennings between herself and Mr. Miller in May 2002. In that conversation, the memo claims, she told the Speaker that Councilman Jennings “behaved in a highly inappropriate manner toward me,” such as asking her to lunch at “a quiet, dark place.” The staff lawyer’s memo states that despite her complaint, Mr. Miller refused to remove her as counsel to Mr. Jennings’ committee. The Speaker has responded that in the May 2002 meeting, the lawyer did not mention sexual harassment. And he adds that in August 2002, when he learned the nature of the lawyer’s complaint, he immediately removed her from the committee. True enough-but previously Mr. Miller had said he’d only heard of allegations against Mr. Jennings in June 2003. And it was not until last December, when two women on Mr. Jennings’ staff filed complaints with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, that Mr. Miller ordered an investigation.
Mr. Miller is widely regarded as a decent and talented man. But his stumbling over the current matter comes after other signs of immaturity: his reversal on lead-paint legislation after pressure from special interests; his eagerness to spend the city budget surplus to hire teachers, reopen firehouses and cut taxes despite an ongoing climate of fiscal uncertainty. Perhaps rather than run for Mayor, Mr. Miller should go back and finish law school, and only then return to the messy and unforgiving field of politics.
Pataki Goes Missing
In the early 1990′s, an ambitious state legislator watched carefully as the Governor of New York slogged his way through an unremarkable third term. He shrewdly realized, long before other political insiders, that the Governor would be ripe for the taking, that the state needed new leadership and energy, a willingness to take on tough issues.
That ambitious legislator was a political unknown named George Pataki. He challenged Mario Cuomo at a time when many people believed Mr. Cuomo was unbeatable. But Mr. Pataki knew the state was ready for change. Mr. Pataki himself is now serving his third term, and wouldn’t you know: His administration is suffering from the same malaise.
While Mr. Pataki’s style has always been understated, recently he has appeared to be utterly disengaged. He has failed to take a strong role in reforming the state’s discredited formula for school funding. Advocates of reform say they’re not sure where the Governor stands on the issue, even though the courts have ruled that the state must improve its public schools, particularly those in New York City. Mr. Pataki seems to prefer blue-ribbon commissions to proactive leadership on any number of issues.
The education issue is particularly troublesome. The State Court of Appeals has ruled that the city’s schools have been shortchanged under the state’s funding formula. The Governor has no choice but to do something to correct this injustice. Complying with the court order may cost Albany an additional $2.5 billion to $5.6 billion a year. The Governor can’t duck this issue. He can’t turn it over to the State Legislature. He must take charge.
His predecessor, Mr. Cuomo, often mused about differences between the poetry of the campaign trail and the prose of governing. Mr. Pataki is a good campaigner-he showed that when he deposed Mr. Cuomo. But a decade later, there is reason to question his interest in actually governing. Yes, it can be tedious. Yes, not every decision is easy-most are not.
But a decade ago, George Pataki saw a chance to bring new ideas and energy to state politics. It’s fair to wonder, in the midst of his third term, if Mr. Pataki has run out of ideas, energy and interest.
The Kerrys Curry Sharpton
Teresa Heinz Kerry has made her first major political mistake of the year. Last week, the wife of the Democratic Presidential candidate came to town and wooed Al Sharpton, giving a speech to his National Action Network. While her speech was a credible attack on George W. Bush-particularly his atrocious environmental policies-her decision to share the stage with Mr. Sharpton indicates that the Kerry campaign is choosing some odd and dangerous bedfellows.
Al Sharpton is not a leader; he is a racial demagogue who wants to be courted by politicians so that he can walk over them. A thug, a liar, a crook and a friend to this country’s most outspoken anti-Semites, Mr. Sharpton has run up a string of financial irregularities that apparently did not faze Ms. Kerry. In his recent campaign for the Democratic nomination, Mr. Sharpton took federal campaign money without adequate documentation and justification. The group to which Ms. Kerry spoke, the National Action Network, has unpaid debts all over town, including $15,000 to New York State for unpaid unemployment insurance. Then there’s Mr. Sharpton’s entertainment company, Raw Talent Inc., which was disbanded in 2002 for not paying taxes. Mr. Sharpton himself has been indicted for tax fraud and is currently being audited by the I.R.S. This is the sort of “leader” with whom the Kerry campaign wishes to be associated?
Moreover, by appearing side by side with Mr. Sharpton, Ms. Kerry lends him credibility and stature while raising serious questions about her and her husband’s commitment to fighting bigotry. Did no one in the candidate’s advance team advise Ms. Kerry that Mr. Sharpton has never repudiated the hate-filled, anti-Semitic language of Louis Farrakhan? By embracing Al Sharpton, who has long been written off as a charlatan by New York voters of all races, Ms. Kerry shows the tin ear of the Kerry campaign.
There are many distinguished African-American elected officials and religious leaders in New York. Why did Ms. Kerry visit Mr. Sharpton when she came to the city, rather than go directly to one of the respected elected black officials, such as David Patterson or Greg Meeks or Charlie Rangel?
Someone should tell Ms. Kerry that New York City is not Pittsburgh; New Yorkers are not swayed by flashy gestures. Yes, Al Sharpton is verbally skilled and capable of being a clever debater-but at his core, he is only interested in himself, not the people he professes to lead. He is a media figure with no power but that given to him by white politicians and their wives who cater to him.