Nonprofit Newswire | Mayor Stops Giving, NYC Nonprofits Suffer

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March 18, 2010; New York Times | They say that politics makes strange bedfellows, but so do philanthropists and politicians, especially when one person occupies both roles. The New York Times is reporting that New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is making plans—that he’s yet to announce—to end a program that has contributed nearly $200 million in gifts from his personal wealth to nonprofit groups across the city.

As the Times notes: “The gifts reflect the often blurred roles Mr. Bloomberg plays in the city as mayor, tycoon and philanthropist. And while the donations earned him praise from grateful recipients, who regarded him as an enlightened billionaire, they also drew rebukes from elected leaders who argued that he bought political acquiescence with his checkbook.

While not yet public, much speculation surrounds the mayor’s decision. Some say it is part of an effort to refocus his family foundation, which might eventually continue this special giving program that had been administered on behalf of the mayor through The Carnegie Corporation. Under the program, which dates back to 2001, the year Bloomberg was first elected the city’s chief, Carnegie’s President Vartan Gregorian reportedly approached the mayor and suggested he set up a special fund that the foundation would administer for free.

Although the annual awards Carnegie distributed were said to be from an anonymous donor, the benefactor was anything but a secret. According to the Times, the foundation published information about the donations and recipients, “and the mayor’s press office alerted reporters to its release.”

Over the past several yeas, the money has helped some 600 groups, including theaters, dance troupes, and museums.  What also made them so prized is that the grants were unrestricted and recipients had few reporting or accounting requirements.

Past grantees are holding their breath, waiting for more information about what, if anything will replace the program.  Carol Ochs,the head of a theatrical workshop for children that received  $400,000 from Bloomberg since 2002, undoubtedly spoke for many when she said, “The really scary thing is the threat of it going away.”

Politicians are more experienced at spinning their decisions than foundations, so it will be interesting to watch for the “official story” of what’s afoot.—Bruce Trachtenberg