Pick the Nonprofit Choice for New York City Mayor—If You Can

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August 8, 2013; The Nation


For a while, there was a national effort to convince nonprofit employees (since nonprofits as public charities cannot do it) to endorse candidates who would be the most likely to adopt pro-nonprofit policies if elected. In years past, it involved finding the candidates who had something reasonable to say about nonprofits in their platforms—usually in comparison to candidates who had nothing to say about nonprofits at all. But that’s not real: most candidates running at local government levels have a lot to say about nonprofits and frequently have past involvements in nonprofit organizations as board members or staff.

Try New York City. Frontrunner Christine Quinn, the current president of the City Council, moved to New York City a couple of decades ago as a community organizer to run the Housing Justice Campaign. Republican George McDonald (running in the nonpartisan election) founded the Doe Fund almost 30 years ago as sort of a prototypical hybrid social enterprise, providing vocational training and job placement to homeless ex-offenders, military veterans, and others. Seen as knowledgeable and supportive of nonprofits are mayoral candidates and both former city comptrollers Bill Thompson and John Liu.

Last week, The Nation made an unusual foray into local political endorsement to recommend that New Yorkers support Bill de Blasio for mayor. A longtime New York City official, and most recently the City’s Public Advocate, de Blasio is particularly well known to the New York nonprofit community as the regional director of HUD during the Clinton administration, where he was widely seen as fighting for affordable housing and tenant rights. The Nation endorsed him for “his commitment to reimagining the city in boldly progressive, egalitarian terms.. De Blasio’s detailed campaign platform calls for new efforts in affordable housing (a plan to build or preserve 200,000 affordable units in 10 years), living-wage jobs, and universal Pre-K (to be funded by a city income tax surcharge on people earning more than $500,000 a year).

The most progressive candidates—De Blasio, plus Thompson, Liu, and city council member Sal Albanese—all get positive commentary from The Nation, but for a number of reasons, ranging from Quinn’s ties to incumbent mayor Michael Bloomberg to Liu’s campaign finance problems, the article centers on de Blasio.

But is an endorsement by the Nation of de Blasio as most progressive a signal about the candidate who is most pro-nonprofit? Women’s rights activist Sandra Fluke, vilified by Rush Limbaugh as a “slut,” has endorsed Quinn. Quinn also recently scored an endorsement from the National Organization of Women, but de Blasio got an enthusiastic nod from financier and philanthropist George Soros. Thompson and Liu are racking up the union endorsements. De Blasio can count on the support of actor Alec Baldwin, Quinn the endorsement of Brooke Shields, McDonald Ethan Hawke’s mother, Leslie.

But which candidates merit nonprofit support? Can the nonprofit sector make more discerning judgments about mayoral candidates regarding their positions toward nonprofit service deliverers? Do clear and strong positions on key nonprofit concerns such as funding, contracting, and taxation override positions housing, civil rights, and jobs for the people who work for nonprofits?—Rick Cohen