For more than a decade, New York City was governed by a billionaire known for reaching into his pocket to fund worthy causes and asking his wealthy friends to do the same.
Under those circumstances, it is unsurprising that the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, the city’s nonprofit, flourished under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, raising tens of millions of dollars annually for everything from anti-poverty initiatives to Superstorm Sandy recovery.
It’s also unsurprising that this fund-raising has slowed substantially under Mayor Bill de Blasio, a mere mortal forced to ask donors for money the way a regular mayor would. Under Mr. Bloomberg, the nonprofit raised an average of $32 million every year, according to an article in The Times. Under Mr. de Blasio, it has raised an average of $22 million a year, or about a third less.
These days the mayor’s wife, Chirlane McCray, is at the helm of the nonprofit, and it turns out that she has been a somewhat absent leader.
Ms. McCray has attended fewer than half of the meetings of the fund’s board, according to The Times’s reporting, and spends only an hour each week on the nonprofit, its tax returns show. As of last week, Ms. McCray hadn’t appeared at the fund’s offices in nearly a year.
And while the fund’s revenues have fallen, its expenses rose by 50 percent in the two-year period ended last June, to $753,000, after the organization moved into bigger offices. It also supports fewer initiatives.
In other words, the Mayor’s Fund under Mr. de Blasio and Ms. McCray has done less with more.
Speaking to reporters, Ms. McCray said fund-raising wasn’t the only way to measure the agency’s success. “It’s not about who can raise the most money,” she said.
Except that is exactly what fund-raising is about.
The fund, which was created in 1994, is meant to harness some of New York’s immense wealth and put it to work to the benefit of the city. Among the dozens of initiatives it funds are programs for free tax preparation, legal help for those applying for citizenship and job-readiness programs for youths. It was professionalized by Mr. Bloomberg, who was able to draw upon affluent New Yorkers — many of them his friends — and who personally donated to the fund several times. Those donations undoubtedly inflated the fund-raising totals during his tenure in office, as did a spike in donations in the years after the Sept. 11 attacks and after Superstorm Sandy.
Mr. de Blasio defended his wife, noting that the Mayor’s Fund was only one of Ms. McCray’s responsibilities. She also oversees an $850 million mental health initiative and does work with L.G.B.T. youth and incarcerated women. In March Ms. McCray said she was weighing a future run for office.
“I think she has done an extraordinary job,” the mayor told reporters at an event in Manhattan on Thursday. “You’re missing what her work is about.”
Mr. de Blasio also added the helpful reminder that Ms. McCray doesn’t receive a salary for her work, despite his frequent protests that she should. “She does all that for zero dollars a year,” he said. Yes, Mr. Mayor, as we’ve explained before, that’s because paying her would be nepotism, and it’s illegal under the City Charter.
The mayor also noted that Mr. Bloomberg had “a whole different set of relationships” than he and his wife have.
That’s true. When it comes to raising lots of money for a nonprofit, it helps to be a billionaire. But no matter who you are, if you’re in charge, you ought to show up.
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