New Councilman Vows to Bring More Opportunities for Jamaica’s Youth
He won easily among a crowded field of candidates.
Now, three months after taking office, Miller, 53, says attracting more programs for young people in the area, which continues to struggle with gangs and high crime, is his top priority.
“The gun violence” among young people in the neighborhood is the “consequence of lack of other things that keep them occupied,” he said.
Miller, a labor activist who wears a shiny earring in his left ear, had never run for public office before. When term-limited Leroy Comrie approached him two years ago and encouraged him to run for his 27th Council District seat, Miller said he was hesitant.
“I thought I had the greatest job in the world,” said Miller who, before becoming a councilman, served for five years as president of Amalgamated Transportation Union (ATU) Local No. 1056, which represents drivers and mechanics working for NYC Transit's Queens Bus Division.
With the support of Comrie and various labor unions that lined up behind him, Miller started canvassing the neighborhood and eventually defeated five other candidates vying to represent the district that includes Jamaica, St. Albans, Hollis, Cambria Heights, Queens Village, Addisleigh Park and Springfield Gardens.
“Out of all of the candidates he was the only one that had a proven track record of service,” said Comrie, currently Queens Deputy Borough President, who has known Miller for more than two decades. “People knew him as a local leader in the community, a person that they could reach out to, who gets things done.”
Miller now chairs the City Council’s Committee on Civil Service and Labor, which in February unanimously threw its support behind one of Mayor Bill de Blasio's priority projects: to expand paid sick days. The mayor signed the bill into law Thursday.
A product of public schools, Miller, who attended programs at Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations, said he can relate to many problems young people in the area struggle with.
He grew up in East New York, and moved to St. Albans when he was 17, and currently lives in Cambria Heights.
A father of four, he became a parent for the first time when he was 19. His wife passed away when he was 31, he said.
“I was forced to raise our two children at a very young age,” he said. “It was a struggle, it took the entire community to help me. I couldn’t even cook.”
“We can reach out to young people and reinforce that they have far greater value than they believe and provide them with opportunities that don’t include gangs and negative influences,” he said.
Miller said he would like the programs to be available also to those young people who committed non-violent misdemeanors that sometimes prevent them “from taking full advantage of the opportunities that exist.”
He is also planning to introduce participatory budgeting to his district which, he said, would engage community members by allowing them to decide how to spend public money.
Children 14-and-older can participate, he said, so if they “decide that they want to redo a playground, they'll put together their proposal and with their social media skills," they can advocate for it, he noted.
Miller said this way young people could push for computers at their schools, a new community garden or a new roof at a center they attend.
It’s “a fantastic way of engaging them and introducing them to the civic responsibilities,” he said.
Among other issues Miller wants to tackle is to improve transportation options. He claims that buses serving Southeast Queens are old and that the area “has the longest commute into the city.”
“This is not Iowa," he said, "where you have a 2-hour commute to work and it’s like the norm for people.”
He said he would like to alleviate long lines of commuters waiting every day for buses at the Parsons Boulevard and Archer Avenue stops, which often force frustrated residents to use livery cabs.
One way to improve the area’s transportation, he said, is to add more buses to each line and to enhance express lines connecting Southeast Queens with Manhattan.
His overall goal, Miller said, is to turn Jamaica into an “epicenter of commerce.”
Miller, who is vegetarian, said he would also like to bring more healthy options to the neighborhood, including stores offering a variety of nutritious food products.
“He is a hard worker,” said Yvonne Reddick, district manager for Community Board 12, who has worked on numerous transportation issues with Miller over the years. “He is a community-minded person, even before he became a councilmember. I know that he will certainly be doing great things.”