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New Republican councilor beat long odds

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When Jeff Miller decided to run for the City-County Council, he knew the odds would be stacked against him.

Miller, a Republican, resides in a district south of downtown—spanning from the Fountain Square area west to Lynhurst Drive—that leans Democratic. And he was challenging Dane Mahern, a Democratic incumbent from an established political family whose name is well recognized in the area.

But less than three months before the election Miller was confronted with a tragic challenge that he could not have foreseen: His wife of 11 years, Carolyn, died after losing a fight with acute leukemia.

Suddenly, Miller, a full-time product manager and volunteer neighborhood advocate, found himself a single dad without family nearby to help him. He also was without the person who had supported him most in his campaign and his public-service efforts, often attending community meetings by his side.

Miller, 44, took a few weeks off from campaigning and questioned whether to continue at all. Ultimately he did, winning on Nov. 8 with 52 percent of the vote. He was the lone Republican to take over a district previously held by a Democrat in an election in which Democrats won a majority of council seats.

Jeff MillerJeff Miller has been a community leader for years. (IBJ Photo/Perry Reichanadter)

“Carolyn wanted this. I wanted this,” Miller said Thursday in an interview at his neighborhood coffee shop, Calvin Fletcher’s, where several people he knew stopped to congratulate him. “It felt like a mission.”

The mission's success was the culmination of years of work that included attending hundreds of neighborhood meetings, spending hours assessing the district’s infrastructure needs and single-handedly knocking on 3,000 doors—at times with his 5-year-old son, Gabriel, in tow.

Miller, who grew up in Anderson, moved to Fletcher Place in 1996, long before it was the up-and-coming trendy district it is today. He bought a house that had been abandoned for 20 years with the notion of rehabbing and selling it, but moved in after realizing he wouldn’t recoup the massive rehab costs.

Shortly after, he joined his neighborhood association, taking on leadership positions. He quickly realized improving his neighborhood would take collaboration with nearby downtown districts, so he also got involved with groups such as Historic Urban Neighborhoods of Indianapolis and Southeast Neighborhood Development, or SEND, a not-for-profit developer in the Fountain Square area.

In these roles, he heard area residents raising concerns about a common theme—crumbling roads and sidewalks—and wanted to do something about it.

So Miller led an effort to launch a tool that helped neighborhoods assess the conditions of roads and sidewalks and prioritize their needs. He also mobilized volunteers to use the tool to help assess 930 blocks in the communities south of downtown. Then he trained leaders from resident groups west of his neighborhood to use it to assess another 700 blocks.

And once the data was gathered, Miller took it to city leaders. He showed up at dozens of public meetings to discuss infrastructure, earning the nickname “map boy” because he carried a large poster displaying the road conditions in SEND’s catchment area to each one.

“I think his passion is what motivated people,” said Mark Stewart, SEND’s president. “He was just so excited, it was like, ‘OK, sure, I’ll get involved.’ He’s very hands-on and he’s very determined.”

That determination is what carried Miller through the last couple months of his campaign after Carolyn's death. He called upon friends to babysit his son so he could continue knocking on doors. He recalled times when he would be driving and a song would come on the radio that reminded him of his wife. He'd be stung with emotion and want to give up, but forced himself to continue because there was so much work to be done.

“It helped to think, ‘I have to keep going,’” Miller said.

Now that he’s elected, Miller hopes to continue his focus on infrastructure—in particular, how road and sidewalk improvements will be funded after money from the sale of the city’s water and sewer utilities is spent.

He also will push to make funding for Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library and IndyGo a top priority, though he’s not inclined to increase taxes to do so.

And in the near-term, Miller wants to propose an ordinance that would add graffiti to the list of nuisance violations that the city must address once a home is abandoned. It’s a small thing, he said, but a big deal in an area where tagging invites drug activity in abandoned homes.

“My top priority is to improve the quality of life,” he said. “Dedicated leaders have a responsibility to improve that.” 

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  • Council District Leans Republican
    Actually Miller's council district, even though it had been represented by Democrat Dane Mahern, leans slightly Republican. Dane Mahern was able to overcome that four years ago, but not this year.
  • Great story
    A humble and highly motivated public servant; Jeff will be an asset to the CCC.
  • Upllifting
    After all the negativity of the election season, what a postive and uplifting story. Here's hoping the new council will tap into this man's commitment and determination to build a better city, one neighborhood at a time.
  • Vote for the Person
    Always good when voters can take a bipartisan approach and vote for the person, not the party. It shows people DO want what's best for the overall good of the City. One person can make a difference.
  • Passion
    Congratulations and best wishes to Jeff. His passion seems to have truly showed to his constituents through what must have been unimaginable grief.
  • Modest, too
    Jeff was too modest to point out to the reporter that two months ago, during the campaign, he took a Saturday morning to train volunteers in the Mid North Quality of Life area...who then went out and surveyed 500 more blocks in the triangle formed by Methodist, IMA, and the State Fairgrounds.

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  1. Why not take some time to do some research before traveling to that Indiana town or city, and find the ones that are no smoking either inside, or have a patio? People like yourself are just being selfish, and unnecessarily trying to take away all indoor venues that smokers can enjoy themselves at. Last time I checked, it is still a free country, and businesses do respond to market pressure and will ban smoking, if there's enough demand by customers for it(i.e. Linebacker Lounge in South Bend, and Rack and Helen's in New Haven, IN, outside of Fort Wayne). Indiana law already unnecessarily forced restaurants with a bar area to be no smoking, so why not support those restaurants that were forced to ban smoking against their will? Also, I'm always surprised at the number of bars that chose to ban smoking on their own, in non-ban parts of Indiana I'll sometimes travel into. Whiting, IN(just southeast of Chicago) has at least a few bars that went no smoking on their own accord, and despite no selfish government ban forcing those bars to make that move against their will! I'd much rather have a balance of both smoking and non-smoking bars, rather than a complete bar smoking ban that'll only force more bars to close their doors. And besides IMO, there are much worser things to worry about, than cigarette smoke inside a bar. If you feel a bar is too smoky, then simply walk out and take your business to a different bar!

  2. As other states are realizing the harm in jailing offenders of marijuana...Indiana steps backwards into the script of Reefer Madness. Well...you guys voted for your Gov...up to you to vote him out. Signed, Citizen of Florida...the next state to have medical marijuana.

  3. It's empowering for this niche community to know that they have an advocate on their side in case things go awry. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lrst9VXVKfE

  4. Apparently the settlement over Angie's List "bundling" charges hasn't stopped the practice! My membership is up for renewal, and I'm on my third email trying to get a "basic" membership rather than the "bundled" version they're trying to charge me for. Frustrating!!

  5. Well....as a vendor to both of these builders I guess I have the right to comment. Davis closed his doors with integrity.He paid me every penny he owed me. Estridge,STILL owes me thousands and thousands of dollars. The last few years of my life have been spent working 2 jobs, paying off the suppliers I used to work on Estridge jobs and just struggling to survive. Shame on you Paul...and shame on you IBJ! Maybe you should have contacted the hundreds of vendors that Paul stiffed. I'm sure your "rises from the ashes" spin on reporting would have contained true stories of real people who have struggled to find work and pay of their debts (something that Paul didn't even attempt to do).

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