News & Politics

Diagnosing Gifford


The hope faded early for Gifford Miller last night. The optimistic talk of relatively good turnout on the Upper West and Upper East sides and low turnout elsewhere benefiting the speaker couldn’t match the big numbers on the giant TV screens at Crobar. Even Tim, the intrepid Miller supporter—who’s been at countless events with his Special Olympics medals and sure handshake—walked the room proclaiming, “It’s over, folks.”

But why? Why fourth place? Miller was whip-smart, the Council speaker, funded better than any of his Democratic rivals, and had—as Miller noted during his defeat speech—the backing of more than 50 political clubs, a whole bunch of unions, and 160 elected officials (only a handful of whom stood behind him during the concession speech). He had a decent list of accomplishments (EITC, living wage, etc.) and offered several detailed policy statements. He did very well in the debates. What was the problem?

Well, who cares anyway? Maybe just political junkies and insiders. But if there are any lessons in Miller’s demise, a wider audience should probably take note. It might say something about the City Council’s weakness as a stepping stone, about fundraising, the media, about how to run a progressive race in New York.

The theories on the floor at Crobar included the obvious. Miller’s campaign made a couple big mistakes, like the $1.6 million mailing, and the media feasted on them. In a scripted campaign environment, and on newspaper pages where not much space was devoted to the race, those gaffes assumed massive scale. Miller’s campaign also always cast itself as just about to take off, their strategy just on the verge of thrusting him into gear. But as time dwindled, it was Weiner doing the climbing, and the media locked on to the Anthony-versus-Freddy one-on-one.

And then there are the intangibles, people said. He’s a funny guy with a nice wife and cute kids, and they like him, but for some reason, Miller’s hard to know. And people like to know their mayors, or at least think they do. They could always get another chance. “I promise,” Miller told his fans, “that our night will come.”

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 14, 2005


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