City Council Speaker and mayoral wannabe Gifford Miller wants to hold on to what he's got. While other pols rushed to return donations from those named in a new "10 Worst Landlords" report, Miller, who's raised the most of all the Democratic candidates ($4.8 million and another $2.1 million in public matching funds), said nothing doing.
Ironically, the first chance to ask Miller about his stance came as he spoke last week in favor of a new bill to hike fines on bad landlords. Miller praised the bill, then bolted for the exit, with the press corps in full pursuit. Walking fast, Miller said that if any landlord "is foolish enough" to send him money, he's "not foolish enough to send it back." He said he didn't know how or why the owners contributed. But he might have good reason to remember.
In June 2002, just as Miller was launching his mayoral fundraising, he received $60,000 from people associated with Eshel Management, a firm repeatedly cited for lousy building conditions. The Eshel contributions, almost all of which were donated on a single date, at that point represented almost half of Miller's total fundraising. The donations came as company chief Zvi "Steve" Kaufman was seeking a city OK to take over three large, troubled Brooklyn housing complexes: Vanderveer Estates, Medgar Evers Houses, and Noble Drew Ali. He was also in court, defending his company against charges that he was evicting working-class tenants to make way for more profitable, city-subsidized homeless families.
Had Miller met with Eshel? Had his staff? "I don't recall meeting with them," said Miller. "Whatever they wanted, they didn't get it." Had he asked his staff about the matter? "I haven't," said the Speaker. "It's three years ago, and I'm not focused on that. I'm focused on having the strongest tenant record of anybody in this race."