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Inside Vegas - Steve Miller

Steve Miller is a former Las Vegas City Councilman. In 1991, the readers of the Las Vegas Review Journal voted him the "Most Effective Public Official" in Southern Nevada. Visit his website at:

Out Trumping Trump
"Councilman Steve Miller is a megalomaniac"
  Brian Greenspun, Publisher, Las Vegas SUN

                Rev. Jesse Jackson and Councilman Steve Miller?

INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
November 30, 2015

LAS VEGAS - Why would a journalist write a column featuring a photo of himself shaking hands with one of the most controversial men in America?   Well, I'm writing this column because no one else would.

I was a lousy politician, but a great public servant!  In 1987, I spent $12,000 of my own money on a half ass political campaign that I thought I could never win against a family name that had graced the door of the Ward One Las Vegas City Council office for over twenty-four years.  Harry and Al Levy, the father and son team who were thought to be unbeatable, just about owned the Ward One office and therefore controlled the center of our city and the casinos that occupy Downtown.

First there was Harry, the once-owner of a grocery store who everybody adored.  He was term limited out of office after serving sixteen years, so his son Al, the realtor who had secretly been enriching the mayor and several city hall staffers with his lucrative land deals,  was easily elected to his dad's seat on the council for the next eight years. No one in Sin City thought the Levys could be beat, and everybody thought that Al's son Andrew would someday occupy the family's elective office on Stewart Avenue following his dad's third term - a term he would never achieve because of me.

In 1987, along comes former disk jockey Steve Miller to try to displace the Levys.  With no donations because people would offend the Levy's if they donated to an opponent, I shocked even myself. Al had over a million dollars in his campaign fund to secure a third term, and his well produced TV and direct mail blitz almost guaranteed that I would blow my stash and become the biggest loser of the 1987 political season.  But something amazing happened!

On primary election night, I was somehow elected by a landslide, a first in Nevada history during the primary.  According to state law, if a municipal election candidate took over 51% of the vote in the primary, the election was over. Kaput!  I don't know why, but I beat Al and four other legitimate candidates a month before the general election was to take place. The reverberations shook the entire state.  Nothing like this had ever happened!  "Who the hell is this Miller guy, and who pulls his strings?"

After the upset, the then-Mayor, Ron Lurie (who was Al Levy's business partner), tried to cry foul and have the election decertified.  He couldn't do it because my huge numbers were beyond dispute. At my swearing in four weeks later, Lurie refused to share the podium with me. That's when I knew I was in for a miserable four year term.

During my first week in office, several of Al's cronies offered me money or favors to cooperate with them.  One was a prominent real estate developer who appeared before the council on a regular basis. He offered me a free vacation in Cabo San Lucas. Several were lawyers who represented developers. One offered me $5,000 cash for every vote I cast in favor of his clients. One big shot who visited me held a lucrative franchise with the city. He offered me $10,000 cash to renew his franchise.  I refused their offers, but wrote down their names for future reference.  I was alone in enemy territory, and I knew it.

During my second week in office, Mayor Lurie appeared on TV news and called me a "whacko."  I started becoming pissed off, but didn't want to show it.  I kept my cool. Soon, I did what Lurie and his friends feared most.  I turned my tenth floor council office into an ad hoc news room.

I learned that whoever occupied the Levy's Ward One office had almost unlimited power to use or abuse especially when it came to giving orders to wimpy staff members at city hall. Harry and Al certainly had that power, and I decided to emulate them, but this time for the right reasons. I became a bully and megalomaniac (like Donald Trump).  I felt I had nothing to lose.

Several months into my tenure, and after a slew of front page stories that everyone knew originated in my office, I was accused publicly of being a "megalomaniac" by Las Vegas SUN publisher Brian Greenspun.  He was right.  I was just beginning to get my revenge on the people who so resented my displacement of Al Levy and his real estate connections and insider deals he had shared with the city manager, mayor, and a number of other cronies, all who I would eventually expose. I started my scorch the earth style of governance.

One morning, a city staff member and I exchanged pleasantries in the elevator. The staffer was immediately summoned into the city manager's office where he was told "Do not fraternize with Councilman Miller."  That's how toxic the atmosphere had become.

I gave 24 hour access to my city hall office to every reporter in town. I told them that nothing was sacrosanct in city hall, and I would pull any documents they needed from any department of the city.  If a bureaucrat refused or balked at my orders, I warned them that I was going to demand their immediate resignation if they didn't comply.  Most bureaucrats did comply because so many are wimps and only think about preserving their often over paid jobs. After the first time I called a press conference and humiliated a city staff member who refused to cooperate with me, no body ever refused my orders again.

City hall secrets began to become public, and the media was delighted at having a quasi reporter on the tenth floor - me.  I showed Mayor Lurie what a "whacko" really was, and enjoyed every minute of it.  I felt like Eliot Ness, but without the Untouchables.  I was alone in the building with no back up.  I had a few inside friends in high appointed positions who fed me quality information, but I couldn't let anyone know who they were, or they'd be immediately fired.  I also had my office swept by veteran Las Vegas private investigator Al Kaplan. He found a microphone and transmitter in the ceiling over my desk, along with a phone tap. I left the devices in place, and per his suggestion, used them to plant false information as often as I could.

After my first year of being a spy in a very corrupt city government, I was rewarded by achieving a 73% favorable rating based on a Las Vegas Review-Journal poll. My head began to swell.  Some other politicians began treating me with respect, and I began believing my own publicity.  I was also appointed to the Clark County Regional Transportation Commission (RTC), the agency that controlled the city transit bus system.

I then took a chance on my popularity and endorsed a candidate for Clark County Commission, Don Schlesinger. He wanted to replace a long time incumbent who I had criminal information on.  The incumbent decided not to seek a forth term based on a warning phone call I placed to him, and Schlesinger handily won. I had made a slew of new enemies, and a few powerful friends, especially in law enforcement circles.  Political junkies began paying attention to me.

I was kicking ass and taking names for future reference.  I was also sending city hall staff on wild goose chases through my knowledge and use of the hidden microphone and phone tap. But, all along, I hated my job and dreaded going to work each day. The denizens of city hall also dreaded me being in their inner-sanctum, and let me know it by their sneers.  In retaliation, I spent sixteen hours per day in my office five days a week. I left my door open and eavesdropped on the mayor and city manager who had offices next door to mine. The mood became more somber as each week passed and the headlines about corruption at city hall increased in number. Everyone knew where the reporters were getting their info.  Was I acting like a "Whacko?"    You bet!

And to irritate the people who sneered at me, I began giving official Awards, Keys to the City, and Proclamations to some of the mayor's worst enemies during the ceremonial part of council meetings.  I even once chartered a bus to bring people to a meeting to cheer for someone the mayor hated whom I presented the Key to the City.  To try to silence me, at the next meeting, the mayor had my microphone disconnected to keep me from honoring any more of his enemies. A staff member told me about it before the meeting, so I went to Radio Shack and bought their loudest bull horn.  When the mayor saw it, I told him it was in case my mike broke down.  It was miraculously turned back on before the meeting convened.

With my new found power, I discovered though a confidential source that the city transit bus system was skimming 10 to 17 million dollars per year in profits from the Strip bus route. The company franchisee was a close friend of the mayor, and there were hefty payoffs flowing through city and county government offices to let the skimming continue. Coincidentally, the transit company CEO's photo was prominently displayed on the wall of the mayor's office.

I offended the mayor and city attorney by ordering an audit of their friend's transit system. But by the time I informed them of the audit, it was well underway.  City auditors had dutifully been gathering evidence from city fire inspectors I instructed to covertly ride the Strip buses with a clicker in their pocket to count the amount of passengers per eight hour shift to be compared with the company's falsified records. My sources were soon proven correct. The skimming was blatant, and based on my findings, the city was forced to revoke the transit company's franchise one year before its fiftieth year anniversary and scheduled renewal.

I purposefully got appointed to the RTC so I could choose a new transit provider in the event I got the old one dumped. I later found out I had killed a goose that for decades laid golden eggs for a number of corrupted politicians and bureaucrats. The hatred against me intensified.  I was sued personally by the dumped transit company for interfering with a private enterprise, but the SLAPP suit was dismissed after new RTC buses began running up and down the Strip (see: ).

In 1988, through another of my investigations, the Las Vegas Housing Authority was found to be cheating elderly people by padding their rents and distributing the excess money to authority executives. That was proven by evidence provided by housing authority employees I instructed to smuggle altered HUD forms out of the housing authority office.  The U.S. Inspector General started an investigation based on my findings, and ten employees of the authority immediately cut deals and resigned.

I also discovered that the then-mayor and city manager were business partners in a lucrative land deal set up by Al Levy. It was confirmed by evidence provided when I ordered a deputy city attorney to bring confidential depositions to my council office.  Based on the depositions,  I forced the city manager, assistant city manager, and city attorney who tried to cover up the land deal, to resign within six months of the story going front page  for 51 days in a row.  To no one's surprise, Ron Lurie announced he would not seek a second term as mayor.  The hatred of me intensified, but I wasn't aware that my political fate had also been sealed (see: ).

One evening, I was invited to join news anchors Gary Waddell and Paula Francis on the set of KLAS TV Channel 8 Eyewitness News. It was an unusual invitation because the anchor desk is not often used for one on one interviews. I wasn't sure what they wanted to talk about, but it was the lead 6 pm story, so I agreed.

Earlier in the week, I mumbled to a reporter that "I hated my lousy job."  The Channel 8 anchors heard about it, and opened their interview by quoting the reporter and asking if it was true? I said it was. Then they asked if I was planning to resign. I said absolutely not.  They asked why?

I explained that I was serving a tour of duty in a war zone. I did not have the option of leaving my post, that I still had two years left to serve. I did say that I would be glad to leave if I were recalled, and in that case it would only take 120 days to do so based on the law. I also offered to financially support any Recall Steve Miller effort, and would not oppose it.

My comments made front page the next day, and by noon, I was informed by the city clerk that a group was in her office filing my recall petition and being interviewed by reporters.  I rushed down to the clerk's office, pushed my way to the front of the group, and signed my name on the top line of their well written recall petition as one of the sponsors. I then donated five hundred dollars to the organizers in front of the TV cameras, and told them I would not oppose their efforts.

The next day, hundreds of phone calls were received at city hall calling for me to stay in office. It was wonderful for my ego.  There was also a growing movement to convince me to run for mayor.

While this was going on, I stayed steady at my job. At the same time, the culinary and bartenders unions began a long dreaded strike of seven Downtown LV casinos. The streets erupted in Ward One where the strike was being held.

Riding a wave of popularity based on my recall antics, positive ratings, and purported hatred of my job, I began receiving calls from Jim Arnold, the Secretary - Treasurer of the Culinary Union, and from casino owners including Jack Binion of the Horseshoe, and Jackie Gaughan of the El Cortez.  They all wanted my support in the strike that was plaguing my district.

I left city hall to walk the several blocks to the heart of the strike. There I found union members blocking entrances to hotels, and shouting insults to tourists over bull horns.  I also observed several casino security guards roughing up protesters. It was mess, and was not going to get any better.

The area of town I was elected to represent was imploding, and I knew I was the only person with nothing to lose if I took sides and hastened the outcome.  I began returning phone calls to the unions and the hotel owners.

At that time, I had a friend named Alan Blum who was a certified arbitrator. I asked him to secretly teach me how to proceed. He started educating me on ways to bring parties together.

I began by ordering the union bosses to stop violating citizen's rights by blocking streets, and shouting obscenities over bull horns. I told the bosses that if they did not heed my orders, I would support the other side.

I then ordered the hotel bosses to stop accosting union members, and if they did not heed my orders, I would support the other side.

Within minutes, there was calm on the streets of Las Vegas.  Brian Greenspun was evidently correct about my megalomania.  I was amazed at my power, and fully began to believe my own publicity.

When I got back to my council office, several union bosses were waiting. They asked me to give them permits to block Fremont Street so they could conduct a rally including speeches by Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, two guys who were despised by most LV big wigs. I said I would issue the permits if they continued adhering to my orders to not block entrances to casinos or harass tourists. They agreed, and I issued the first of two permits.  The mayor, other city council members, and the casino owners were furious. I didn't give a shit. Remember, I had recently proclaimed that  "I hated my lousy job," and signed my own recall petition, so I had nothing to lose.

Two days later, Jackson and Sharpton arrived.  I got my picture taken with them. They appeared that evening before thousands of union members on the section of Fremont Street I closed. All went well, but the casino owners were really pissed at me.

The next day I arrived at City Hall to find five well dressed casino owners waiting in the lobby of my office. We adjourned in the mayor's conference room.  They asked me what I was doing? I said I was going to settle the strike by the end of the week, or take sides.

That afternoon, former LV Mayor Bill Briare who was now serving as the CEO of the Downtown Progress Association called to chastise me. I loved the man, but this time we were at complete odds. I told him I was going to issue a second permit to block Fremont Street for later that week. He asked what it would take to stop me. I said it was too late because I had already given Jackson and Sharpton my word, but I would be willing to reconsider giving them any more permits if Briare could convince the casino owners to attend a closed door conference with the union bosses that I would arrange. With the whacky image of Jackson and I shaking hands fresh in his mind, he said he would try.

Two days latter, Jackson and Sharpton reappeared on Fremont Street, this time to a crowd double in size.  It went peacefully, or I would have taken the other side immediately, and the unions knew it.

The weekend passed without incident, though Downtown was suffering great financial losses.

On Monday, Alan Blum advised me to schedule a meeting with the owners and bosses as soon as possible.  I did, and on Tuesday, Binion, Gaughan, and the other owners arrived at city hall along with Arnold and the union leaders. They also brought an army of attorneys with them.  I knew my next move was going to either settle the strike immediately, or totally blow my trumped up credibility for the rest of my political life.

I waited until the throngs of big shots and media were getting anxious, and made my entrance to the lobby where they were all gathered.  You could cut the atmosphere with a dull knife. I never saw so many men and women who obviously hated each other all together in one room.

I made an announcement based on Mr. Blum's advice.

"We are going now to the mayor's conference room to arbitrate a settlement, but I will not allow any person who has a law degree in the room at any time.  Also, no cell phones will be allowed."

You could hear a pin drop.

I then announced that I would lock all doors to the conference room until the strikes were settled, and was prepared to spend the rest of the day and night in the locked up environment, and that coffee, food, and toilets were available, but that no attorney was to remain in the building during the arbitration. Those were my rules, and that was it!

Several men tried to speak in protest, but in my most megalomaniacal voice, I ordered them to be quiet.  I stated that I was going to the conference room now, and if I saw any attorneys enter the room, I would have a marshal escort them out, or the arbitration would be canceled.

I had court marshals standing by if I needed them.

I walked down the hall to the conference room never expecting anyone to follow.  I was wrong.  Right behind me were Binion, Arnold, Gaughn, and a dozen hotel and union executives.  We took our seats. I asked if anyone present had gone to law school?  Nobody had. We began.

For the first hour or so, there was attempted name calling that I stopped cold.  Then someone cracked a joke, and we all laughed. Within minutes, I was the target of several unflattering remarks that I countered with my threat to cancel the rest of the meeting and take sides.  The remarks ceased.

I don't recall all the details, but I do remember how much cigarette smoke filled the room, and how many pots of black coffee needed to be refilled. The arbitration went on for a little over three hours. Then it got real quiet, and both sides began engaging in small talk and laughing.  The ice was broken, and sanity had evidently prevailed.  I knew I needed to get the meeting finalized as it looked like a deal could be reached.

I asked everyone present to summarize the kind of agreement they would sign at that moment. There was a little confusion, but all seemed to be on the same page. A handwritten agreement was generated, and amazingly, everybody signed it.  I closed the meeting before the six o'clock news deadline.

That evening I went home to my wife and daughters. They bitched about me smelling like smoke. I told them I had had a rough day. I went to bed dreaming of becoming a real megalomaniac, but nobody at my house, including my dog, would ever believe I could be one. Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and me never got back together.

The next year, the Las Vegas Review-Journal Readers Poll named me the Most Effective Public Official in Las Vegas.  My head almost exploded, and I decided to run for mayor in 1991, a big mistake!

For some ungodly reason, I now think I know how Donald Trump feels in his topsey-turvey presidential campaign while he's being called names.  Like I was, he's called a bully, raciest, egotist, bigot, grandstander, megalomaniac, clown, etc.  I can empathize with him right about now, though I'm not supporting any one candidate at this time.

If Trump wins, he'll be the biggest outcast ever elected since my humble election.  I don't want to brag, but I offer this column as fair warning of what may lie ahead for the anti-politician.

I don't think my experience can pale against what Trump is going through, or will go through in the near future, but I think I clearly understand what its like to be a hated "megalomaniac" - but oh so effective.


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