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Letitia James is no fan of Gifford Miller.

And, the councilwoman said this week, she wants to make that point perfectly clear in light of mailings to Democrats in her district — paid for by taxpayers — that imply an alliance between the City Council speaker, who is running for mayor, and the Fort Greene-Prospect Heights legislator.

It’s not so much that the mailings carry the air of impropriety — despite emanating from the City Council they amount to little more than campaign literature for the Upper East Side councilman — although that, too bothers James. No, in this case it is the implication that the councilwoman is an ally of someone who supports a project which she has risked her politcal career fighting — developer Bruce Ratner’s proposed Atlantic Yards.

“I have not endorsed Gifford Miller,” James told The Brooklyn Papers this week. “I want that stated unequivocally, and will not be endorsing Gifford Miller unless he changes his position on the Atlantic Yards.”

With his Atlantic Yards plan, Ratner proposes to build a basketball arena, at least four soaring skyscrapers that would be Brooklyn’s tallest and 13 other high-rises extending east into Prospect Heights from the bustling intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues.

The plan, which in addition to creating a home for Ratner’s New Jersey Nets NBA team would also create up to 7,300 apartments and office and commercial space, relies on government subsidies and the power of eminent domain seizure of private property, as well as the sale of air rights over Metropolitan Transportation Authority rail yards.

James, who has been the most vocal and active political opponent of that plan, is up for re-election to her second term this year. Her stance on the project, for which most other elected officials have either expressed support or remained mum, has put her out on a limb and alienated her from the head of the political party on whose line she was elected — the Working Families Party’s Bertha Lewis.

Lewis, who heads the New York chapter of ACORN, a nationwide community organization that negotiated a housing deal with Ratner for the Atlantic Yards project, is a supporter of the development.

Miller, meanwhile, who is trailing, according to recent polls, in a primary race with former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer and Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields to challenge Republican mayor Michael Bloomberg this November, has come out in favor of the $3.5 billion Atlantic Yards project. Brooklyn-Queens Rep. Anthony Weiner is also running.

The mailings feature slogans and photographs of James and Miller together. That, the councilwoman believes, implies to her constituents that she supports Miller’s candidacy.

The pamphlets, which were sent to registered Democrats in James’s 35th Council District, blared, “Speaker Gifford Miller and Council Member Letitia James: Building a Better Future,” on the cover, with two prominent photos of Miller, and one smaller, bespectacled shot of James, who seldom wears glasses.

“I assume that it was sent out to registered Democratic voters in my district,” James said. “Obviously, they didn’t check with me.”

Inside, the booklet repeatedly credits “Speaker Miller” at the front of many bulleted items that were James-conceived initiatives from the past year. These include expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit, adding funds to city scholarship programs, creating workforce development for immigrant communities and restoring funds for tenant legal services.

“Obviously, because he’s the speaker of the City Council, anything that moves is subject to his approval, so he can take credit for this as well,” said James. “But these are all my initiatives.”

The Miller mailings, with wording that often pits the mayor against the bulleted initiatives, has led to concern that the 100,000 fliers, which were sent citywide throughout the first two weeks of June, were little more than an 11th-hour attempt by the speaker to reach voters for his own campaign using council funds.

They have been scrutinized by the city’s Campaign Finance Board as well as by the Fields campaign. Both offices sent letters to the city Conflicts of Interest Board, representatives said.

“There should be an investigation into this waste of public money,” said James, who added that she was not filling a complaint.

James said she was approached by the speaker’s office for approval of the mailing on June 2, only two days before he held a press conference outside Brooklyn Borough Hall to announce his support of the Ratner project.

She said she didn’t get to see the pamphlet, and only gave it a nod because she thought it was about the council.

“I had no idea what they were mailing; they said it would be something really generic,” said James.
James said she would never have approved the mailing after Miller’s Atlantic Yards endorsement.

Campaign Finance Board spokeswoman Tanya Domi called Miller’s move a conflict of interest.

“It actually is a conflict that should be referred to the Conflicts of Interest Board on Mr. Miller’s mailings,” she told The Papers. “We’re reviewing it as a conflict [internall­y],” she added.

A spokeswoman for the City Council asserted that the mailings were legitimate and standard practice for Miller, and that all the council members involved had approved them.

“[James] approved them,” said council spokeswoman Leticia Theodore, who said the brochures were just regular council mailings.

“[Miller] regularly updates the community about what’s going on and any developments on what’s going on with the City Council,” she added.

James complained that Miller had overstepped his bounds in doing the district-wide mailing and it was unlike any prior mailings that she had experienced.

“He’s never done a joint mailing; he has an obligation to his constituents, not to mine,” said James. “It’s my responsibility to report to my constituents on the progress of the City Council and on legislative initiatives, and my responsibility alone.”

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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