In 2014, I wrote that Chirlaine McCray, wife of newly elected New York Mayor Bill De Blasio, despite having received zero percent of the vote, began to exercise an outsized influence on New York City politics. Since then, her responsibilities, failures, and subsequent promotions have become increasingly larger. Her most recent promotion gives a person with no medical, or statistical background a significant role in bringing the city back to normal after being America’s hardest-hit city during the Bat Flu crisis. For the 325 million+ Americans who haven’t read my earlier post about Ms. McCray, here’s the back story.
In 2012, Bill De Blasio, one of the farthest left politicians imaginable, became Mayor of New York City by getting 73% of the vote. Shortly after the election, his wife, Chirlaine McCray, who won 0% of the vote, received a role at City Hall, a staff, and a hands-on policy-setting role. Her title? Hefty enough to let her push her worldview on the lives of 8.3 million New Yorkers: Chair of the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City. According to the Fund’s website, this is “A 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization working with 50 City agencies and offices, 300 institutional funders, and 100 community-based partners. The Mayor’s Fund and its partners advance initiatives that improve the lives of New Yorkers from all walks of life and across all five boroughs. In particular, the Mayor’s Fund has made strategic investments to promote mental health services for all New Yorkers, increase workforce development opportunities for young New Yorkers, and meet the needs of New York City’s diverse immigrant community.”
The Fund was created by Mayor Rudy Giuliani in 1994 to raise private-sector money for some of his favorite projects. In 2002, Mayor “Call Me Mike” Bloomberg reorganized and renamed the fund. To appoint his wife as chairperson, De Blasio had to get permission from the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board. He argued that she would be “exceptional” and was “uniquely qualified” to connect government with for-profit and nonprofit groups. Unfortunately, they let her have the job.
The following facts about her performance don’t come from a conservative critic. They are from a May 29, 2018 article in the New York Times: “From mid-2002 through mid-2014, the fund raised an average of $32 million a year, although that number is inflated somewhat by a spike in donations after Hurricane Sandy (and includes large donations from Mr. Bloomberg).
But under Mayor Bill de Blasio, the fund has not kept pace. Contributions are stagnant, if not falling, and now support fewer programs.
And the chairwoman of the nonprofit, Chirlane McCray, has largely been missing in action: She has attended less than half of the fund’s board meetings, and her outreach to donors has been sporadic.
Ms. McCray, the mayor’s wife, has not even set foot in the fund’s office for nearly a year; her public schedules in 2017 recorded less than 20 hours spent on Mayor’s Fund business during the entire year.
Even as fund-raising has stalled, the fund has moved into larger offices — which include a new, private office for Ms. McCray — and the cost of running the operation has increased by more than 50 percent in the last two years.
From the fiscal year that began in July 2014 — the first year the fund was under full control of Mr. de Blasio and Ms. McCray — through June 2017, the fund raised an average of $22 million a year. In the first 10 months of the 2018 fiscal year, the fund raised $14 million, according to a spokeswoman, Cynthia Olson, putting the fund on pace for its lowest annual revenues in more than a decade.”
Did they miraculously recover? Maybe a bit. The Fund’s 2019 Annual Report states that they received $29M in grants and contributions from 290 funding partners, and engaged 98 community-based organizations in a total of 108 programs, projects, and initiatives.
It also looks like the lights are on and nobody’s home at their expensive headquarters. As of May 2, 2020, the most recent post on the Fund’s Facebook page is dated October 3, 2018.
Despite the Fund’s mixed record, some believe Ms. McCray is gifted at multi-tasking. She continues to chair the Mayor’s Fund, but in 2015 was also appointed as head of an organization that has spent nearly a billion dollars under her leadership: Thrive NYC. From their website, here are their goals:
ThriveNYC focuses on closing gaps in mental health care. Our programs advance four goals:
Promote mental health for the youngest New Yorkers
Reach people with the highest need
Strengthen crisis prevention and response
Eliminate barriers to care
For all ThriveNYC programs, we track metrics and regularly publish data on programmatic reach and the impact these programs are having in the lives of those served.
Most would agree that POLITICO is not exactly a right-wing outlet. But in a 2019 article, published after Thrive had been operating for more than three years, they were less than sanguine about Ms. McCray’s performance. A few excerpts:
“With opaque budget and elusive metrics, $850M ThriveNYC program attempts a reset
Since its inception in 2015, ThriveNYC — the city’s sprawling $850 million initiative to address a variety of mental health issues — has operated without much scrutiny or accountability.
With few public metrics by which to measure its success so far, and the broad strokes used by city officials to describe its operations, the city has offered little insight into how it has assessed Thrive’s efficacy since it began.
While it plans to be more deliberate in the future, Thrive staff did not provide internal goals or benchmarks by which to judge its progress to this point.
Thrive’s two-year report, released in February 2018, offers cumulative data, like the number of medical professionals trained to prescribe treatment for opioid use. However, it does not show whether programs met or surpassed their goals, and whether New Yorkers are better off for it.
Representatives from four advocacy and service organizations said that Thrive does not fund greater access to inpatient treatment or intensive outpatient services for those with serious mental illnesses, further burdening the social safety net.”
Fast forward to 2020. Even City Hall had to admit ThriveNYC was a wreck. They didn’t close the doors, but Director Susan Herman said, “Where programs did not work as well as we hoped, we are trying new approaches.” In all, they are shutting down 23 of their 54 programs, and claim they are establishing a new focus on helping New Yorkers with serious mental illness, which was kind of the whole idea from the beginning. Of course, the budget will only drop by about 9 percent, remaining over $200 million a year.
You might think that Ms. McCray has her hands full running two expensive programs into the ground. But current mayor, failed Democrat presidential candidate, and loyal spouse Bill de Blasio feels otherwise. On April 26, 2020, he appointed her to yet a third job: Co-Chair, Racial Equity Coronavirus Task Force. Her task force will address “structural racism that is obviously present in the realities we are facing with this disease.”
According to Health Department data, COVID-19, or the Bat Flu, as I call it, has killed African-American and Hispanic New Yorkers at about twice the rate of whites and Asians, which they say mirrors longstanding disparities in health outcomes. De Blasio said the task force on racial inclusion will focus on support of minority-and woman-owned businesses, among other issues.
Just a few months earlier, it became clear that Ms. McCray is considering a run for her first elected office, as Borough President of Brooklyn, which, if it were independent, would be the 4th largest city is the US. She has the clear support of the outgoing mayor, who has slim chance of being elected to a third term. She has also earned the outrage of many critics, who believe De Blasio promotes her to larger and larger posts to gain even more prominence, which could help her in the upcoming race. One critic is fellow Brooklyn Democrat Councilman Antonio Reynoso. “If we look at her history prior to being the first lady, her talents are not in the management of teams and the management of initiatives,” he said. Quite an understatement.
Of course, De Blasio defended his decision Wednesday, saying, “A qualification in my view is [someone] who has the weight and the gravitas, who has the intellect, who has the vision, who has the standing in this administration.”
Fortunately, this time, Ms. McCray will only be heading a task force. This reminds me of one of my favorite moments in local politics. One night, at a city council meeting in Cotati, CA (pop. 6800) an enthusiastic young woman who was head of a local task force presented a report on the sad condition of local streets.
The Mayor asked her when the city could expect to see sidewalks installed on a certain long-neglected street.
“Oh,” she said, with a perfectly innocent tone. “We don’t do anything. We’re just a Task Force.”