Bloomberg Launches War of Words on Poverty

Mayor Michael Bloomberg(Mayor Bloomberg with councilmember Gale Brewer.
Not pictured: councilmember Bill DeBlasio, Congressman Charles Rangel, poor people.)

When Mayor Bloomberg's Commission on Economic Opportunities issued its prescription for curing poverty in September, he ordered that city agencies get back to him within 60 days on how they intended to implement the report's recommendations.

Yesterday, 91 days later, the mayor gathered with other elected officials at the Lower East Side People's Federal Credit Union on Avenue B to announce . . . two new mayoral offices! The Office of Financial Empowerment, operating from within the Consumer Affairs Department, will help New Yorkers make "smart financial choices." And the new Center for Economic Opportunity run out of the mayor's office will oversee "more than 30 programs to increase opportunity," Bloomberg said, without divulging details of what those programs might be. The mayor also plans a $100 million annual "Innovation Fund" for these new projects, promising that "programs that don't work are going to be terminated."

Those looking for clues as to what the mayor considers innovative had plenty to go on yesterday. Both the handful of program ideas he divulged (a refundable state child-care tax credit, counseling for low-income citizens on avoiding predatory lenders) and his rhetoric (in Bloomberg's tongue, the poor are "people who are starting their way up the economic ladder") leaned heavily toward building better bootstraps for the poor to tug on. His explanation of the "challenges" facing his administration as it tries to help people up a rung were grounded firmly in cultural pathology. "Not every child has caring, loving parents at home who can explain to them why an education is so important, who can make sure that the kid show up in school, who make the kids understand that they have to behave a certain way," said the once-divorced mayor. "Charlie [Rangel] and I are from a very different generation. Generally the families in our day and age were much more two-parent families."

Of course, there is the possibility that the mayor was just measuring his words carefully to appeal to funders. He hopes to raise $25 million a year for the Innovation Fund from private donors, and "hunger" and "homelessness" are so, you know, victim-y. The real proof will be in the pudding, however many days from now Bloomberg gets around to serving it up.

As the mayor said in opening yesterday's press conference, "It's very easy to have a press conference and announce something and say you're going to do it. It's quite a different thing to actually do it, and I've always believed that the public should hold elected officials accountable for actually delivering on what they promise." Duly noted.

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