News & Politics

Bloomberg Launches War of Words on Poverty

by

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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