Mayor Bill de Blasio, who became a scourge of the wealthy with a vow to raise their taxes, has enlisted members of the financial elite to advance his agenda.
Venture capitalist Fred Wilson has offered $5 million to get computer science in every city school, while Viacom Chief Executive Officer Philippe Dauman is pushing for more broadband internet in the Bronx. Hedge-fund operators Paul Tudor Jones, Tony James and William Ackman are helping with affordable housing, youth employment and mental health.
De Blasio, 54, a Democrat who pledged to fight income inequality, has accused the rich of using their influence to block antipoverty efforts. Lately, that rhetoric has been mixed with paeans to public-private partnerships forged to attack homelessness, create jobs and improve schools and health.
“We may not agree on individual issues but we’re all in the same ecosystem,” said Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman. He’s co-chairman of the Partnership for New York City, a group that finds corporate partners for city programs.
For several corporate leaders, cooperation began last year when de Blasio sought their help in a failed effort to persuade the Democratic Party to choose New York City for the 2016 convention.
“Our city’s business and philanthropic communities are critical collaborators in our work fighting against income inequality,” de Blasio said in an emailed statement. “With support of our private partners, we are working to strengthen the economy, prepare our future workforce and make our city more equal and accessible.”
Jones, founder of asset manager Tudor Investment, has been trying to find a way for the Robin Hood Foundation, which he started 27 years ago to aid New York City’s poor, to help de Blasio realize his goal of creating 200,000 units of affordable housing.
“We can bring everyone in the real-estate industry to the table and have a wonderful public-private partnership,” Jones said after briefly encountering de Blasio at the East Hampton home of billionaire Ronald Perelman.
The meeting occurred weeks after de Blasio said, “we have seen wealth concentrated in fewer and fewer hands and have a negative impact on how many people are unemployed and what kind of wages they have.”
The mayor has quieted the antagonism since then, said Robin Hood executive director David Saltzman.
“It took a little bit of time for the relationship to blossom but it has blossomed,” Saltzman said.
As the mayor’s relationship with some of the wealthiest investors and executives has improved, he’s faced criticism from neighborhood groups and past supporters.
His affordable-housing zoning plan, which would increase density to help finance construction of below-market units, has come under attack from advocates and community boards who say it would spur gentrification. Some accuse him of being too generous with developers who would benefit from tax abatements and subsidies.
De Blasio also has failed to convince some of the city’s wealthiest philanthropists. Kenneth Langone, the Home Depot co-founder and Republican donor who has served on the Robin Hood’s board, said he’s not interested in collaborating with de Blasio.
“I have no interest in being involved with politicians, because clearly they can’t get anything done,” said Langone. “He’s got plenty of authority to do what it takes to fix the schools. When he does that, he’ll have a better chance of getting more cooperation and help.”