Wednesday, November 12, 2008

NYT: Recipients of NYC Mayor Bloomberg's "Mayor Award" are Nonprofits He Privately Contributes To

The New York Times reports that every year, New York City honors a handful of artistic and neighborhood nonprofit organizations with a prestigious prize known as the Mayor’s Award, citing their contributions to the city’s cultural life.  What usually goes unmentioned, however, is Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s contributions to many of the winning groups. Since 2004, the city has given 10 of the awards to organizations, or their employees, that have received significant private donations from Mr. Bloomberg, according to records and interviews.

In 2006 alone, the award was given to five groups that had received hundreds of thousands of dollars each from Mr. Bloomberg, a billionaire.  On Monday night, Mr. Bloomberg presented one of the Mayor’s Awards to the Alliance of Resident Theaters/New York, which provides financial assistance and affordable space to hundreds of small theater companies. Since 2001, Mr. Bloomberg has personally given the group about $700,000, records show.

Aides to Mr. Bloomberg and several leaders in the city’s arts community downplayed the connection between the mayor’s charitable giving and the city awards, saying that any overlap was inevitable and largely accidental.  But others said that the overlap highlights the blurring of Mr. Bloomberg’s philanthropy and his role as mayor, which became a flash point during the recent term limits debate.  During that debate, Mr. Bloomberg and his aides asked the heads of several nonprofit groups that rely on his largess to testify in support of his plan to extend term limits at public hearings or to urge wavering members of the City Council to back his bid for a third term.

Even some who receive the mayor’s private money said it can be hard at times to distinguish his official actions from his private charitable giving.  Mayor Bloomberg donates the money to the groups through large and technically anonymous donations to the Carnegie Corporation, but it is an open secret in New York City’s cultural circles that he is the source of the gifts, which typically range from $10,000 to $150,000 a year.  Since 2002, Mr. Bloomberg has donated more than $100 million to at least 2,500 nonprofits, earning him widespread praise. Much of Mr. Bloomberg’s philanthropy is directed toward cultural causes.

The Mayor’s Awards for Arts and Culture, first given out in 1976, and only sporadically in the 1990s, have become an annual honor under Mr. Bloomberg. Every year, a 21-member advisory commission submits recommendations for six to eight awards. At least four members of that commission either run or sit on the board of a group that receives donations from Mr. Bloomberg.  The final decision is made by members of the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs.

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