17 October 2008

Bloomberg Forces Charity to Begin at Home

His out-and-out villainy continues.

One of the best things about Bloomberg was always that way he quietly gave millions in charitable gifts to worthy city organizations and causes. Now, he is tossing his reputation as a philanthropist in the dustbin by coercing recipients of his past largess to come out in favor of his term limit increase.

Read this from the Times and prepare to pick your jaw off the floor.

Bloomberg Enlists His Charities in Bid to Stay

By MICHAEL BARBARO and DAVID W. CHEN

Michael R. Bloomberg, who says he strictly separates his philanthropy from his job as mayor of New York, is pressing many of the community, arts and neighborhood groups that rely on his private donations to make the case for his third term, according to interviews with those involved in the effort.

As opposition mounts to his plan to ease term limits, those people said, the mayor and his top aides have asked leaders of organizations that receive his largess to express their support for his third-term bid by testifying during public hearings and by personally appealing to undecided members of the City Council. Legislation that would allow him to run for another term is expected to come up for a Council vote as early as next week.

The requests have put the groups in an unusual and uncomfortable position, several employees of the groups said. City Hall has not made any explicit threats, they said, but city officials have extraordinary leverage over the groups’ finances. Many have received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Mr. Bloomberg’s philanthropic giving and millions of dollars from city contracts overseen by his staff.

An official at a social service group that receives tens of thousands of dollars from Mr. Bloomberg and has a contract with the city was startled to receive a call in the past few days from Linda I. Gibbs, the deputy mayor for health and human services. Ms. Gibbs asked whether the organization’s leaders would be willing to call wavering council members to argue for Mr. Bloomberg’s term limits legislation.

“It’s pretty hard to say no,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of upsetting the mayor. “They can take away a lot of resources.”

A spokesman for the mayor, Stu Loeser, said that many of the organizations that have publicly supported the extension “are groups that we have been working with over the last seven years to move New York forward, and the reason we are asking for the opportunity for another four years is to keep New York moving forward.”

Mr. Loeser said Mr. Bloomberg took pains to separate his charitable giving from his day-to-day management of the city.

Nevertheless, public hearings on Thursday and Friday and interviews with council members revealed the extent to which the mayor is relying on those who have received donations from him as he pushes for the legislation, which would permit officials elected citywide and council members to serve 12 years rather than 8. Several administration officials confirmed that top mayoral aides, including Deputy Mayors Edward Skyler and Kevin Sheekey, have encouraged groups to join the effort.

Officials from five groups that have received significant charitable contributions from the mayor testified on behalf of his bill — the Doe Fund, the Harlem Children’s Zone, the Public Art Fund, the Alliance of Resident Theaters and the St. Nicholas Neighborhood Preservation Corporation. In addition, other recipients of his philanthropic funds, including Safe Space, a charity that works to keep children out of foster care, and Jazz at Lincoln Center, have been lobbying council members behind the scenes.

None of the officials disclosed their financial ties to the mayor’s charity when they testified.

Mr. Bloomberg routes the money to the groups through large and technically anonymous donations to the Carnegie Corporation, but it is an open secret that he is a source of the gifts, which generally range from $10,000 to $150,000.

Since he was elected, for example, Mr. Bloomberg has given the Harlem Children’s Zone more than $500,000, according to records and interviews with those familiar with the process. The group’s president, Geoffrey Canada, vigorously endorsed Mr. Bloomberg’s legislation in testimony on Thursday.

Mr. Canada said that “if I thought it mattered to the Council, I would have disclosed” the contributions from Mr. Bloomberg. He said he supported the mayor’s campaign to remain in office because of his record as a manager and his courage to raise property taxes to strengthen the city’s finances.

Officials from other groups also said they would have backed Mr. Bloomberg’s plan whether or not he had given them money or solicited their support.

Susan K. Freedman, who heads the Public Art Fund, which has received more than $500,000 from Mr. Bloomberg, testified for his bill and praised his record of promoting projects like Olafur Eliasson’s “Waterfalls,” the East River cascades that were dismantled this week. “The mayor believes in what I believe in,” she said.

The Doe Fund, a homeless-services organization, has received about $150,000 from Mr. Bloomberg since he took office. At the request of the mayor, the group’s founder and president, George McDonald, testified for the mayor’s proposal.

Ken Frydman, a spokesman for the Doe Fund, said that Mr. McDonald “would have shown up to testify in any case, as a longtime politically active resident of the city, who cares deeply about extending term limits.”

At least 11 Doe Fund employees, including several senior officials, testified in favor of the mayor’s plan, but most of them did not identify their employer, describing themselves only as residents of their neighborhoods.

Mr. Frydman said there was no coordination by the Doe Fund, but he declined to answer further questions.

Kenneth Sherrill, a political science professor at Hunter College, said it was inappropriate for the mayor to be asking the groups that are so dependent on his good graces to take a position on his legislation.

“It’s distasteful. And what’s distasteful about it is leaning on weak people — people who are vulnerable,” Mr. Sherrill said. “The problem is in the implicit threat that if you don’t help, we’re going to remember.”

The mayor remains broadly popular, and many of those who testified before the Council over the past two days, including a former Time Warner chief executive, Richard D. Parsons, argued that Mr. Bloomberg’s experience was needed to help the city deal with an economic crisis that could be "frightening, perilous or even dangerous."

Still, the opposition Mr. Bloomberg has encountered over the bill has been more intense than anticipated. Despite the intense efforts of his staff to turn out a favorable crowd, a solid majority of the nearly 250 who testified during the two days said they opposed it, according to a tally by The New York Times.

Fred Siegel, a professor of history at Cooper Union who has studied New York City politics for decades, said Mr. Bloomberg had cynically “reversed the flow of money” in politics to build the illusion, if not the reality, of widespread support.

“The traditional politicians are bought by special interest groups, but Bloomberg buys special interest groups,” he said.

Mr. Bloomberg, in his radio program on Friday, said he remained “cautiously optimistic” that the Council would pass his bill, and he was pleased to see “democracy at work” during the two days of hearings.

5 comments:

kurt said...

"The mayor believes in what I believe in" - Susan K. Freedman, who heads the Public Art Fund

That's funny -- and backwards.

And I think the waterfalls sucked; if they'd given ME the millions they cost, I'd be able to buy my own city!

Brooks of Sheffield said...

They were a waste on money, you're right. I'm willing to bet they didn't bring in their cost in tourism money.

Mica said...

I am the multimedia administrator for The Doe Fund and am appalled at some of the supposed 'facts' mentioned in the paper and on the Internet about The Doe Fund's involvement in last week's term limits hearing. The fact of the matter is that no employees of The Doe Fund were paid to attend. it is sickening that The Doe Fund's reputation has been slandered by misinformation. I would urge people to learn the truth of what The Doe Fund is doing in our fine city by watching these videos, which describe the work we do to help formerly homeless and formerly incarcerated individuals become self-sufficient members of society:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qUz4HG_VwFQ
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MiXYWIQ7Nkw
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JB5bpbKKo08

Brooks of Sheffield said...

No one has said the Doe Fund was paid to speak out in favor of Bloomberg's third term. The complaint is that the Bloomberg administration has no business asking organizations he has donated money to come out in favor of his bid.

Anonymous said...

There is no multimedia coordinator at the Doe Fund, but it did coerce employees to get in the van to go to City Hall that night.