Dawn Miller *10
Bill Wadman
‘There’s just so much that can be done using the city government to do good in the world’

Dawn Miller *10 was in seventh grade when she decided she wanted to work in government. When she was older, she wouldn’t pursue the flashy job of an elected official, though. “They’re the ones who are the most visible, but most of the work is done by people who didn’t run for office,” Miller says.

She was drawn to Princeton’s master in public affairs program, where she got a certificate in urban policy and planning. After stints in both the public and private sectors — at the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission and at a mobility technology company called Coord that partnered with cities across the country — she’s now deputy chief of staff for the mayor of New York City, Eric Adams, and transitioning to the role of senior adviser to the city’s chief climate officer.

“There’s just so much that can be done using the city government to do good in the world,” Miller says about her decision to join the Adams administration. “I felt like I was able to really bring about change relatively quickly — that’s the way in which local government, I think, is attractive relative to other levels of government.”

Her first priority in her new job will be shepherding the implementation of Local Law 97, which was passed during the previous mayoral administration and requires large buildings in the city to meet certain target emission limits or pay fines. Since two-thirds of the city’s emissions currently come from buildings, Miller says, “It’s really the most impactful climate policy of any city in the world, and I’m not a hyperbolic person — I think that’s really true.”

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Miller says she likes the “little things” of working in government, when she can use the power of the office to solve a problem for a community. Yet the most satisfying projects for her are the large and impactful policies that often take a lot of work and time to get through. 

In a city like New York, though, the criticism is never far away, and the nascent Adams administration has received its fair share. “Government work is not for you if you can’t develop a thick skin,” Miller says. “You have to listen to what’s out there, evaluate it, and then figure out if you need to change course. If you do, you do, and if you don’t, you use that thick skin and then you know you’re doing the right thing and you just weather the criticism.”

Miller says she doesn’t have an “end goal” for her career aspirations in government and is instead a believer in keeping her mind open to opportunities as they present themselves. 

“Sometimes the most interesting opportunities are the ones you didn’t even know to look for,” she says.