The Bloomberg gap

bloomberg-gap
Bloomberg. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
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Numerous city programs funded by Michael Bloomberg's personal fortune will be left hanging in the balance when he leaves City Hall this week, from an initiative to help young men of color find jobs to a massive tree-planting project.

The billionaire mayor, criticized to great effect by Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio for closing his eyes to income inequality, has used his personal charity, Bloomberg Philanthropies, to pay for programs throughout city government, furthering his own policy priorities and filling in gaps when taxpayer dollars fell short.

The extent to which Bloomberg will keep supporting such local initiatives is unclear, as he turns his attention to national and international endeavors.

"He will continue to be one of the most generous individuals on the planet, and his giving will continue to be guided by the same values and support for the issues he believes in," Bloomberg spokesman Marc La Vorgna said, when asked if the mayor would still donate to the aforementioned Young Men's Initiative and another city-run program he founded, the Center for Economic Opportunity.

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La Vorgna did confirm Bloomberg will continue serving as chairman of the National Sept. 11 Memorial & Museum, a role he has used to help raise more than $450 million in private donations. Bloomberg also provided the institution with a low-interest $15 million loan in May.

"You have to acknowledge his impact: He's drawn millions from other donors by attracting them or bringing them in," said Michael Frazier, a spokesman for the memorial foundation.

The mayor initiated the Young Men's Initiative in 2011, combining public and private funds in an effort to connect black and Latino men with educational resources, job training and mentoring opportunities to close the racial achievement gap. It also focuses on health care and improving the justice system.

Bloomberg Philanthropies partnered with the Open Society Foundations, run by liberal billionaire George Soros, to fund the program, which is also fueled by city taxpayer dollars. The three parties pitched in $43 million annually over three years, with $30 million in total coming from the mayor's organization and another $30 million from Soros.

The money has not all been spent, La Vorgna noted.

The mayor's charity also granted $40 million to the city-run Center for Economic Opportunities, which he launched in 2006 to study and combat poverty.

Bloomberg used the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City, in partnership with the New York Restoration Project and a number of other charities, including Bloomberg Philanthropies, to raise more than $25 million for his plan to plant a million trees throughout the city by 2017. He set the goal in 2007 and as of December, 800,000 trees have been planted, according to milliontreesnyc.org.

The city has allocated $400 million to the project, according to a report titled The Collaborative City, which examines the public-private partnerships that have funded city programs under Bloomberg's watch.

The report, commissioned by Bloomberg Philanthropies, concluded that such partnerships raised for $1.4 billion in non-city financing, the majority of which came from donors other than the mayor himself. La Vorgna estimated the total is closer to $2.8 billion, because the report excluded private money for city parks and the Sept. 11 memorial funds.

Since taking office, Bloomberg also spent hundreds of millions of dollars of his personal money on arts organizations that might otherwise have had to cut back their operations or fold entirely.

Bloomberg has made other, less meaningful expenditures in the service of his job that nonetheless saved taxpayer dollars.

He refused the $225,000 salary to which he was entitled, receiving just a requisite $1 a year. That totals $2.7 million in savings over his tenure.

Bloomberg paid out of pocket for his work-related domestic and international travels, as well as for the staff accompanying him. (Bloomberg also used his position and money to take more frequent and elaborate trips than a typical mayor, venturing to a host of countries including China, Brazil, Singapore, Vietnam, England and Israel.)

Bloomberg also kept the lights off at Gracie Mansion, where the de Blasios will take up residence, opting instead to live in his tony Upper East Side townhouse.

The mayor also paid for food for his staff, and others.

His former spokesman, Stu Loeser, recalled one instance of the mayor's financial generosity sparing taxpayers a small cost:

"I once got him to spend $1,026 on pizza for high school valedictorians and their families who joined him to push the button on New Year's Eve," Loeser told Capital.

As the story goes, the mayor invited the scholars and their guests to to annual ball-drop, which was intended to be a brief affair. But the producers needed to do a practice run with the students, and held them longer than expected.

Fretting over how to keep them around, Loeser said he and his staff called the Times Square Alliance to secure them a room and food. The Alliance provided the space, and Loeser used the mayor's credit card to purchase the food.