Grading the Speaker

Miller's Council Gets 'A' for Courage, Mixed Results on Budget and Bills

The list of bills was designed to quantify Miller's success, but no legislative leader can be measured by a number. He and his new council of activists can take pride in several of these legislative initiatives, though Miller must also explain why tort reform as well as a lead-paint control bill co-sponsored by 31 of the 51 councilmembers appear to be moving very slowly through the council process.

More than any other piece of legislation, the lead paint bill, which allows affected tenants to sue landlords, has stirred misgivings among councilmembers about Miller's willingness to stymie an initiative with substantial support, though the members will not go on the record about their complaints. Miller's aides ascribe the delays to a court case about the old law that is now before the Court of Appeal. In fact, Miller observed in a recent Citizens Union interview that "the number of cases of lead poisoning has dropped dramatically in the last few years," suggesting that this was "a good" produced by the old, and highly limited, law.

Harlem councilman Bill Perkins, a sponsor of the bill and member of Miller's leadership team, told the Times in June that the argument that lead poisoning rates "are going down" is a "very diversionary and almost racist argument" because "they're not going down satisfactorily in communities of color." Though 7657 children had high lead levels in the city's latest test, the real estate interests, some of whom are contributing to Miller's campaign kitty, are resisting any change in law, citing a reduction of 1876 poisoned children since the last lead paint bill passed the council in 1999.

The ultimate test of Miller, though, is the budget. As salutary as his November support of the property-tax hike was, Miller had the option of passing a council budget in June that recognized the real revenue shortfall, had tax increases in it, and applied the added revenue to services that were cut. Instead, he joined with Bloomberg in ratifying a fantasy budget. Since the council has much more charter power over the budget when it is initially adopted than when it is modified, he relinquished whatever chance he and the council had to set their own agenda. It was a mistake he is unlikely to make the second time around.

Research assistance: Cathy Bussewitz, Alexa Hinton, Felicia Mello, Solana Pyne, E.B. Solomont, Steven I. Weiss

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