McCray’s ‘Mayor’s Fund’ goals begin to take shape

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Chirlane McCray with Bill de Blasio. (Ed Reed for the Office of Mayor Bill de Blasio)
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When Bill de Blasio announced his wife would chair the nonprofit Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City back in February, Chirlane McCray called the unpaid job an "honor" and jokingly ordered the mayor to pinch her as she delivered public remarks inside a social-service center in the Bronx.

Three and a half months later, McCray has slowly begun putting the de Blasio administration's mark on the nonprofit, which raises private contributions to boost city-run programs.

She and the organization's four other board members and two-person staff are sifting through the projects prioritized during the Bloomberg administration, when the Mayor's Fund was chaired by first deputy mayor Patti Harris, to assess which fit into their plans to use the organization to bolster the mayor's efforts on income inequality.

So far, according to two sources familiar with the organization's work, they have selected four priorities: assisting parents in recruitment and enrollment for de Blasio's signature proposal of expanded pre-kindergarten; increasing summer jobs for teens and young adults; helping the surviving victims of the fatal East Harlem building explosion in March; and applying to make the city a test case for broadening eligibility for the Earned Income Tax Credit.

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The largest infusion of cash so far—$1.5 million—is paying for the city's "Summer Youth Employment Program," which provides city jobs for New Yorkers between the ages of 14 and 24, according to the sources. They would not name the donors.

Under Bloomberg, who used the charity to address some of his pet causes during his tenure, the Mayor's Fund also made the summer-job initiative a priority.

The nonprofit also has raised $405,783 for costs related to the collapse of two buildings in East Harlem, such as funeral expenses, the sources said. The Real Estate Board of New York, Con Edison and the Association for a Better New York were among the backers of an initial $250,000 pledge after the explosion, McCray announced on March 31.

The Mayor's Fund also has begun soliciting donations for de Blasio's universal pre-K push, which promises to provides 53,000 full-day seats this September and, by next year, spots for every child in the five boroughs.

The state provided the city with $300 million for the early childhood education expansion in the Fiscal Year 2015 budget, but those funds have restrictions, so the charity is raising money to assist in tasks such as aiding parents with registration and enrollment at Community-Based Organizations, which will offer many of the new seats, the sources said.

The Mayor's Fund's staff—Darren Bloch and Anthony Perez—is also applying for a federal grant so the city can do a trial run of expanding eligibility for the Earned Income Tax Credit to childless adults. If successful, the charity will need to raise approximately $5 million to carry out the effort, the sources said.

President Obama has proposed making the tax credit available to more Americans and is awaiting approval from Congress.

The city's trial would be partially funded by a grant from the Social Innovation Fund—a White House initiative of the Corporation for National Community Service that uses public and private money on local projects.

Under Bloomberg, the Mayor's Fund, along with the city's Center for Economic Opportunity, won a $5.7 million Social Innovation Fund grant for a series of antipoverty programs, including WorkAdvance, a job training and placement program for unemployed and low-income New Yorkers.

"The Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City is in a unique position to bring the flexibility and entrepreneurial spirit of the private sector to bear on government. We are focusing on initiatives that align with the priorities of the administration and are collaborative in nature, requiring multiple agencies to work together to test new models and create opportunity for all New Yorkers," said Gabrielle Fialkoff, senior adviser to the mayor and director of the city's Office of Strategic Partnerships.

Fialkoff is serving as vice chair of the Mayor's Fund. Rounding out the board are Maya Wiley, de Blasio's chief counsel in City Hall, Deputy Mayor Richard Buery and Laura Santucci, the mayor's chief of staff.

In 2012, Bloomberg's second-to-last year in office, the Mayor's Fund raised money for a host of measures to assist low-income New Yorkers, including providing services to troubled individuals through Bloomberg's Young Men's Initiative, and offering financial counseling in several languages.

It also broadened Bloomberg's environmental and public health goals, such as planting trees and adding salad bars to public schools.

During that year, the charity raised nearly $106 million in revenue—$97.6 million of which came from private donations, according to its most recent tax papers. Much of that money paid for Hurricane Sandy relief work.

The sources said that the Mayor's Fund would continue all previous programs for which there are still unspent dollars, including about $31.5 million for the Young Men's Initiative.

In total, the nonprofit still has about $47 million for close to 30 programs in its coffers—money raised before McCray took over, the sources said.