Instead of having a “stupid” debate in Washington about the debt ceiling, Rep. Charlie Rangel said his colleagues in Congress should have been taking notes on what Mayor Bloomberg was rolling out.
“I think what the mayor has done is what the nation is gig to have to do,” Mr. Rangel said in a recent interview. Along with serving more than 40 years in congress, Mr. Rangel is a combat veteran and dropped out of high school.
And that’s the kid of person Mr. Bloomberg wants to help.
Mr. Bloomberg announced a $127 million program to help black and Latino men in New York City gain job training, better access to health care and housing, and end the disproportionately high recidivism rate among inmates of this backgrounds.
“This has to be a national policy,” said Mr. Rangel. “The cost of keeping people in connecting wit with the criminal justice system, …arresting, putting them on trial, putting them in jail, monitoring them on parole, is far more expensive than any educational budget you can imagine,” he said. “It’s really a threat to our national security.”
The pogrom, which is called the Young Men’s Initiative, has unassailable goal, leaving many of Mr. Bloomberg’s reliable critics with little to vent about.
“I can’t argue with the goals, that’s for sure,” said Councilman Lew Fidler, a democrat from Brooklyn. As aChair of the Youth Services Committee, Mr. Fidler is, for now, willing to give Mr. Bloomberg time to turn his laudable goals into specifically, measurable action.
“I would probably — unless the Speaker [of the City Council] wants it to happen sooner — give them an opportunity to make soup, flesh it out, and make it operational,” Mr. Fidler said of the initiative, announced last Friday. “This too will evolve as they put it into action.”
To fund the program, Mr. Bloomberg reached into his own pocket, ponying up $30 million, with another $30 million coming from billionaire financier George Soros. The remainder will come from city coffers.
Putting taxpayers on the hook for half the cost of the program is not, for now, raising Mr. Fidler’s ire.
“If you’re expecting I’m going to be critical of it, I’m not,” he said. “The mayor is entitled to start initiatives, particularly something that is a long-term problem. If it doesn’t work, hopefully, we’ll take that money and use it for something else.” Mr. Fidler, who has clashed with Mr. Bloomberg for most of their three terms in office, said, “he’s entitled to give it a shot.”
Freshman Councilman Jumaane Williams, another Democrat from Brooklyn, was less enthused. “It would have been great to reach out to some of us, the elected, who have been working on this,” said Mr. Williams, speaking to the Observer shortly after Mr. Bloomberg’s Friday announcement. “Maybe he’ll take what he said today into the next budget.”
It is a large, complex and persistent problem that has plagued New York City for decades, and only seems to have gotten worse over time. In other words, a challenge that may be big enough to occupy the famously restless executive.
And if it works, the beneficiaries won’t just be the 315,000 young men the program reaches out to.
“The third term thus far hasn’t been that great for the mayor,” said City Councilwoman Helen Foster, a Democrat from the Bronx. “The snow storm, Cathie Black, it’s just been a number of things,” she said, referring to the former schools chancellor who resigned summarily after only three months on the job.
Ms. Foster did not mention Deputy Mayor for Operations Stephen Goldsmith, whose departure –which was announced on a Friday afternoon, after the mayor delivered a speech about the Young Men’s Initiative — came only after 15 months on the job. Mr. Goldsmith was partly blamed for the city’s abysmal response to the city’s snow storm.
“This is a way of kind of saving face and redeeming himself,” said Ms. Foster. “Let him save face, let him redeem himself. But let us really dig our heels in and start helping this group of people who, in terms of mainstream, have been ignored for so long.”
For his part, Mr. Bloomberg has tried to address issues of this sort in the recent past. A 2007 initiative launched by Mr. Bloomberg — which sought to incentive positive behavior, such as going to the doctor, among New York’s poor — was quietly ended when the results came back disappointing. The program, called Opportunity NYC, was privately funded, with money coming from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Starr Foundation, the Robin Hood Foundation, the Open Society Institute, the American International Group — better known as AIG — the Board Foundation, “as well as Mayor Bloomberg,” the City Hall press release at the time said.
Ms. Foster said she hoped Mr. Bloomberg’s latest venture was more successful, but admitted she had a nagging feeling to the contrary.
“I don’t think it’s new [to address the problem] but the people who are saying it now are white males with wealth who the media follows,” she said. “We’re getting all this attention now and the initiative is getting all this attention now because of what Bloomberg has done with the personal wealth. But is that going to translate to skills, eduction, and jobs and are we in some sense, building up these men to let them down once it’s not a new story anymore?”
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