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Mayoral Charter Revision Commission Hears Expert Testimony on Campaign Finance Reform


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The Charter Revision Commission


The Charter Revision Commission empaneled by Mayor Bill de Blasio met on Thursday at NYU for the second of four expert advisory issue forums, discussing what could be the marquee issue for this year’s commission: changing the city’s campaign finance system. The first meeting, held Tuesday, focused on voting and election reform.

Like the first hearing, Thursday’s saw the commission hear from invited experts on the topic at hand, and was broken into two sections. For campaign finance, the first panel discussed context and perspective of the city’s system from politicians and experts, and the second provided recommendations.

The commission, consisting of 15 members appointed by de Blasio, including Chair Cesar Perales, will finalize a list of proposed changes to the city Charter by early September that will then appear on the general election ballot in November for voters to approve or disapprove.

Representatives from the city’s nonpartisan Campaign Finance Board provided five recommendations to the commission for improving the city’s public campaign finance system and its centerpiece, the public matching funds program. The board recommends:

  1. Lowering individual contribution limits from $5,100 to $2,250 for citywide offices, from $3,950 to $1,750 for boroughwide offices, and from $2,850 to $1,250 for City Council seats.

  2. Increase the matching funds rate from 6-to-1 (for every dollar under $175 raised via an individual contribution, the city disburses $6) to 8-to-1. This would be coupled with an increase of the maximum matchable amount, from $175 to $250.

  3. Increase the cap on public funds as a percentage of a campaign’s total spending limit from 55 percent to 65 percent.

  4. Lower the threshold to qualify for matching funds for citywide races, from $250,000 from 1,000 eligible contributors for mayor and $125,000 from 500 contributors for public advocate and comptroller, to $125,000 and $75,000 respectively with the same number of contributors.

  5. Lower the minimum individual contribution counted toward the public match threshold, from $10 to $5.

Others, including advocates, elected officials, and academics, also provided recommendations to the commission, with some differing from the CFB and others in line with it.

The city’s public election financing system, whereby donations to candidates of up to $175 are matched by public dollars at a rate of 6 to 1, has been cited as a model nationwide for placing more power in elections in the hands of the average voter. City Council Member Carlos Menchaca testified to the committee that he never would have been able to mount an insurgent campaign without the system, and that it also allowed him to spend more time with voters rather than donors from out of the district.

“What the system allowed me to do was to have a conversation with donors at $5, $10, and my branded experience of $38 for the 38th District, about the campaign finance,” Menchaca said. “That was my beginning part of my conversation with everyone, that their dollars would multiply by six. That allowed folks to feel empowered in a challenger, and for people that were not entrenched in the system, which is where I had to go build my political support, became possible.” Menchaca said his average contribution amount for his 2013 campaign, in which he pulled off the rare feat of unseating an incumbent, was “around $100.”

The public matching program came into being in 1989, after a wave of corruption scandals in city, state, and federal government led to the passage of Local Law 8, which established a 1:1 match. The match was increased to 4:1 through the 1998 Charter Revision Commission, and was increased again to the current 6:1 in 2007.

The system has significantly lowered candidate reliance on political action committee (PAC) money and other “big money” donations found at other levels of elected government, including state-level elections in New York. The CFB presented data comparing an unnamed City Council member’s finances with that of a member of Congress and of the state Senate. The member of Congress raised 77 percent of their money from PACs and 0.6 percent from small contributions of $200 or less. The state senator raised 89 percent from PACs and 7 percent from small contributions. The City Council member, on the other hand, raised 25 percent from PACs, and 62 percent from small contributions when matching fund allocations were taken into account.

However, for citywide offices, the contribution percentages can be a red herring. In 2017, while 73 percent of contributions to mayoral candidates participating in the public match program came from donors who contributed under $175, 45 percent of the actual dollar value of the total contributions came from 650 individuals who donated the maximum for the 2017 election, which was $4,950 (it has since risen automatically, per law, to $5,100). For the City Council, the distribution is more equal, and in fact, Council candidates as a whole received more money in 2017 from small donors than from contributors of the maximum amount allowed by the program.

Non-participants in the program can take the form of a rich self-funder like Michael Bloomberg, but can also take the form of an incumbent without serious competition not wanting to use taxpayer funds for a formality election or interested in looser restrictions on their spending. Non-participation in competitive races is fairly rare, though. According to the CFB’s Assistant Executive Director for Public Affairs, Eric Friedman, 28 out of 64 non-participants in the public finance system in 2017 reported raising $0.

Others who testified were largely in line with the CFB on raising the match rate and reducing the maximum allowable contribution by about half. Advocates broke with the CFB on the issue of the match cap: while the CFB recommended that the cap be lifted to 65 percent, Alex Camarda of Reinvent Albany and Michael Malbin of SUNY Albany’s Campaign Finance Institute recommended that the cap be eliminated entirely, which would have the city provide more public funds relative to the spending limit.

“I don’t see what purpose that serves,” Malbin said of the matching cap. Camarda and Malbin both endorsed raising the rate of matching funds rate above 6-to-1, but did not recommend a specific rate.

For the 2021 election, the spending limit for a City Council candidate is set at $190,000, and the maximum public funds disbursement is $104,500, or 55 percent of the spending limit. Eliminating the cap would mean that a candidate could spend up to 85 percent of the spending limit using public funds. City Council Member Ben Kallos recently re-introduced a bill that would eliminate the matching funds cap.

CFB representatives were asked by Commissioner Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at NYU’s Brennan Center, why the board is endorsing a 65 percent cap instead of elimination. CFB Executive Director Amy Loprest said that raising it to 85 percent would be impractical.

“We make public funds payments to candidates who are on the ballot and who are opposed on the ballot, therefore we can only make those payments once the ballot has been set,” said Loprest. She noted that according to state election law, ballots could only be set after the end of petitioning. “The ballot is set roughly at the end of July, beginning of August. Which means that we make our first public funds payments at the beginning of August, which leaves about five weeks before the primary.” She noted that this would cause campaigns to be constrained to spending most of their money in the five weeks before the primary.

Camarda agreed in part.

“I think that in citywide races, 65 percent is plenty because citywide candidates don’t often hit the cap,” he said. “Our concern would be for City Council, because as I mentioned, 30 percent of the candidates in 2013 actually hit the cap.” The CFB stated that it wouldn’t oppose eliminating the cap, but that it was not its first preference.

The commissioners, including Chair Perales, a former Secretary of State under Governor Andrew Cuomo, appeared receptive to the changes proposed by the CFB and the other testifiers, for the most part. Most lines of questioning were of an inquisitive rather than adversarial tone. The commissioner who was most skeptical and critical of the proposed changes was John Siegal, an attorney and a de Blasio appointee to the Civilian Complaint Review Board.

“The reason, clearly, that mayoral candidates rely more on big contributions is because it takes a lot of money to run an effective mayoral campaign,” said Siegal, who donated $4,500 to de Blasio’s 2013 mayoral campaign. “And while it sounds good and feels good to say ‘let’s lower the contribution limit,’ that is going to have consequences. Candidates are going to have to work way harder to raise money. They’re going to have to spend a lot more time raising money.” He noted that there is an “efficiency to getting on the phone and getting 500 people to give $4,500 or $5,100 that is going to be lost here.”

The CFB’s Chair, Frederick Schaffer, said that he would agree with Siegal if the only recommendation made by the Board was to lower the contribution limit.

“That’s why we want to increase the match for citywide officials from 6-to-1 to 8-to-1, and increase the actual amount from $175 to $250,” Schaffer said. “We crunched those numbers precisely with this problem in mind, and we think that the overall effect of those three things together meets the concern that you have just expressed.”

Siegal was also critical of a proposed “geographical requirement” for citywide candidates, which would force them to fundraise around the city. Malbin’s presentation to the commission noted that most money raised for citywide contests comes from only five City Council districts, representing Manhattan around Central Park and Brownstone Brooklyn. For citywide candidates, Malbin recommended that they must show a minimum number of contributors in 20 of 51 Council districts to qualify for public matching funds. The CFB suggested that citywide candidates raise 50 contributions from each borough.

Siegal called this a “fundamentally different requirement than we’ve ever had in the system,” saying that previous campaign finance law was limiting the money candidates can raise rather than explicitly saying who it must be raised from, which he said would set a bad precedent, “engineering campaign fundraising.”

“Have you actually looked at how many Republicans raise 50 matching contributions in [the] Bronx? Or how many Democrats actually raise 50 contributions in Staten Island? And do we really want to tell candidates that they have to go out and introduce themselves to communities where they have no background and no ties, and the first thing they have to do is go ask for money. That doesn’t seem to me that it’s getting money out of politics, it seems to me like it’s pushing the fundraising race into places for other reasons,” he added.

Schaffer dismissed the notion that 50 contributions per borough was unattainable for a seeker of citywide office.

“We’re trying to identify people who are reasonably likely to be real candidates, and so we thought the number 50 was really quite minimal, even for a Democrat in Staten Island or a Republican in the Bronx,” Schaffer said. There are currently three citywide elected offices: Mayor, Public Advocate, and Comptroller.

Other commissioners also had questions and concerns. Dale Ho, of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, questioned whether it was appropriate to put such specific numbers, limits, and thresholds into the city charter, which he characterized as difficult to change and rarely brought up for debate, versus the easier-to-change city code.

“As you can see from all this machinery here, [the charter] is quite difficult to amend,” Ho said. “If it turns out that the number should change over time, maybe the limits need to be reduced even more, maybe the match numbers need to go up even higher, maybe we miscalibrate something and we need to adjust something. If these changes are in the city charter, that kind of ties the hands of the city in a way that if they’re in the code, maybe they’re a little easier to adjust.”

Schaffer, a former top appointee in the office of the city’s Corporation Counsel, its top lawyer, said he believed that the City Council can amend the charter “just like ordinary legislation,” which Perales agreed with.

Other issues beyond those encompassed by the CFB’s recommendations also arose.

Government reform group Citizens Union remained neutral on increasing public funds disbursement to candidates, but gave suggestions for transparency measures if the commission decided to increase the disbursement. Rachel Bloom, Citizens Union’s director of public policy, called on the commission to prohibit public funds disbursed to candidates to be used to pay consultants that also lobby the city, subject candidate coordination with union members to campaign finance regulations, tighten Local Law 181, which regulates the nonprofits of elected officials, restrict the transfer of campaign funds running for one office to another office, and to transfer lobbying reporting and enforcement to the CFB.

When asked by Siegal if the CFB was interested in regulating lobbying, Loprest was ambivalent on whether the organization’s independence lent itself to being a watchdog on lobbying.

Meanwhile, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams advocated for eliminating money from politics entirely and moving to a 100 percent publicly funded system. Adams said that candidacies receiving public funding could be gauged by petition signatures, or by reaching a threshold through $1 donations that would end up in the public finance system. He also suggested that the members of the commission, none of whom have held elected office, were not fully equipped to know what raising money as a politician is like, and that they should hold a “mock election” to gain fuller experience.

“I think a good mock exercise is for everyone at CFB, everyone who’s making these decisions, to run a mock election,” Adams said. “Those who have never felt what what you go through to run an election can never really understand. I think to run a mock election, give them the task of calling people and giving them $500, if ever you want people to lose your number, try to raise that $500.”

Adams has already made his own appointee to the charter revision commission empaneled through City Council legislation, which will begin its business soon and put forth recommendations next year. Adams has chosen former City Council Member Sal Albanese, who has been a proponent for campaign finance reform, organizing much of his 2017 mayoral run around the “democracy vouchers” program that has been implemented in Seattle.

“Money is the enemy,” Adams said. “It is always going to be the enemy. We are always going to have a problem with corruption until we get money out of campaigns.”

The mayoral charter revision commission will meet twice more next week, on Tuesday and Thursday, to hear expert testimony on community boards and land use, then civic engagement and independent redistricting.

***
by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.

City Council Allocates Discretionary Funding, with Significant Increase for the Speaker


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Speaker Corey Johnson (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


The New York City Council increased the funding it distributes to local nonprofits and for Council members’ favored projects in their districts to $66.4 million for next fiscal year, which begins July 1, an increase of about $5 million, which largely went to initiatives sponsored by Speaker Corey Johnson. The money is part of the larger $89.2 billion budget deal reached between Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Council, which was announced on Monday.

The Council on Wednesday released details of its “Schedule C” discretionary funding, allocated annually to support nonprofits across the city and provide services where city agencies do not meet the need. Members items, as they are known, are meant to allow local elected officials to disburse funding to organizations that they know in their communities and help their constituents, especially the young, the old, and those living in or near poverty.

Discretionary allocations in broad categories remained unchanged this year. The Council is spending $5.6 million on programs providing services for the elderly, through the Department for the Aging; initiatives under the Department of Youth and Community Development will receive $7.7 million; anti-poverty initiatives received a $2.8 million allocation.

About $20.4 million will go to various local initiatives on what is called the “Speaker’s List,” sponsored by individual members, while local initiatives sponsored by the speaker himself will get $16.1 million in funding. A separate “Speaker’s Initiative” pot of funding saw the $5 million increase, to $11.9 million. Another $2 million was allocated to borough-wide needs.  

Johnson’s predecessor, former Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, reformed the discretionary funding process when she took the Council’s top office in 2014, adding equalizing measures to the formula by which funding is allocated to members while providing certain bumps to less well-off districts using objective measures. Speakers that came before her had used Schedule C to reward allies and to punish individual members when they spoke out or opposed them. Each member, including the speaker, received about $660,000 each to dole out to local, youth and aging initiatives this year. Additional allocations based on district poverty rates ranged from $25,000 to $100,000 depending on the members’ districts.

The discretionary grants range anywhere from a few hundred dollars to hundreds of thousands. In a twist, the largest single grant of $500,000 was made by Johnson to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to fund a study on the decaying Lefferts Boulevard bridge in Queens.

Certain boroughs were clear winners. Of the $2 million for borough-wide initiatives, the Brooklyn delegation received the most, a total of $620,000. Queens came in second with $540,000. Manhattan received $380,000 while the Bronx was allocated $340,000, and Staten Island received $120,000.

[Read: Mayor, City Council Reach Agreement on $89.2 Billion Budget, Funding Key Council Priorities]

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

New Deputy Mayor Phil Thompson Outlines His Portfolio, Which Includes Everything


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Thompson, with the Mayor and First Lady (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


Bill de Blasio and Phil Thompson go back decades, working together in the administration of Mayor David Dinkins, but they spent many years apart before rejoining the same team earlier this year, when de Blasio announced the appointment of Thompson as the new Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives.

Replacing Richard Buery in the role, Thompson begins his tenure in the de Blasio administration for the start of the Democratic mayor’s second and final term, and after nearly two decades teaching at MIT, writing books and essays, and working on a wide variety of projects as a consultant. He returns to city government with recent experience around the world, including in Brooklyn and South America, where he has helped coordinate community and economic development programming, environmental sustainability efforts, and other projects.

“When the mayor offered me this job I was teaching a course in the Amazon and I was working with community groups in a city that had been devastated by an avalanche of boulders. following an unprecedented weather event,” Thompson told Gotham Gazette and Citizens Budget Commission during a recent appearance on the “What’s the [Data] Point?” podcast.

“The mayor called me and said, ‘Have you ever thought about coming back into government?’ and I said, ‘Hell no…I’m in the Amazon, I’m not thinking about New York!’” Thompson said, laughingly, before turning serious about the “divisiveness and narrow-mindedness” that he thinks is permeating the country under President Donald Trump.

“To be honest with you, I really am worried about this country,” he said. “The opportunity to serve and make a difference…Everybody who can do something ought to do what they can do…I never really thought of myself as a patriot, per say, but I really feel that’s what it is. I need to do something for the country.”

And much of what Thompson believes he can do is to contribute to significant advances for New York City, providing models for elsewhere, and help advance a new era of urbanism and Democratic politics. During the podcast discussion, Thompson made clear he is someone who thinks about large trends and how to harness or respond to them, and that he wants the de Blasio administration to pursue new, big ideas to advance social, economic, and environmental justice before the mayor is forced from office due to term limits. He said workforce development would be a major focus for him, and explained how it ties in with racial and environmental factors.

“I actually want to drill down...into workforce and where the economy is going and then aligning our business development, which his under me -- small business development, MWBEs, and workforce programs -- with where things are going and where I think things are going,” Thompson said. “I think we’re on the verge of three major changes in the city, but also in the country, that are going to be the most dramatic changes in the history of this country.”

The first, Thompson says, is climate change. He believes retrofitting city buildings, including schools and NYCHA complexes, to make the facilities more energy efficient should be a priority for the city, which already has a plan, announced by de Blasio in 2014, to retrofit approximately 3,000 buildings before 2025. De Blasio has also announced a proposal to see private building owners forced to retrofit. Thompson wants to see these efforts integrated with jobs programs for New Yorkers, especially in underserved communities.

“We know that the biggest danger in New York is probably heat in Manhattan...and we know there are going to be rising oceans,” he said. “My own view is: if your problem is heat, you don’t build walls to keep the ocean out, you figure out a way to bring the water in. Does that mean Manhattan becomes Venice? Maybe.”

The second major challenge facing the city and beyond, Thompson believes, is the digital revolution, namely the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and automated jobs, and he wants government to invest money to pursue innovation. “There are two types of jobs for the future: One, where you tell robots and computers what they’re going to do, and the second, where robots and computers tell you what you’re going to do...so how do we make sure our kids are telling computers and robots what to do?” he said.

“In my opinion the government should be developing infrastructure around AI,” he said. “We’re going to have smart cars soon, which are going to be guided by traffic managers who exist in a cloud, which are going to be AI traffic managers. That infrastructure ought to be designed and owned by government because if it’s owned by a private company they’re going to own everything.”

The third issue facing society as a whole, Thompson says, is an growing bloc of voters who will change the way politics and government happen across America. “Eighty percent of American cities are majority of color now, and if you look at young white people in cities, 80 percent of them voted for [President Barack] Obama twice. If you put those two facts together, that was the coalition that elected Bill de Blasio -- people of color, young white folks, and progressives. That coalition can be replicated across the country and I think that’s the coalition that will turn the tide in this country. It’s very promising and it’s never happened before.”

“[It will] turn the tide on American politics and governance, period,” Thompson said, as the hosts interjected a note about the Electoral College.

A large potion of Thompson’s vision involves educating young people so they will have the tools to thrive in this vastly changed world. He hopes to align education and training programs with summer camps and innovation areas to “actually develop and train young people for what’s coming, and not for what’s going to disappear in five years.” He argued for project-based experiential learning, particularly in economic growth areas. And he agrees that changes in education should extend all the way through schooling.

“For example, there’s an immense investment now in DNA research -- future prescription drugs are going to be for your particular DNA -- and it requires skill in what’s called computational biology,” he said. “That’s the future, so working backwards...we’re trying to say, ‘how will we integrate the summer youth job experience with computational biology exposures?’”

When asked, Thompson used his own personal story of opportunity to express support for de Blasio’s recently announced plan to integrate the city’s elite specialized high schools, by moving away from a single test determining entry.

For the 18 years prior to joining the de Blasio administration, Thompson has worked as an Associate Professor of Political Science and Urban Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He’s on loan to the city for two years from MIT, a leave that can be extended another two years if the sides agree, according to a City Hall spokesperson.

Thompson has spent time in New Orleans, Peru, and Haiti on post-disaster planning, he said, and he’s worked in Columbia on post-conflict building, and, for the last four years, he’s been working on a community health initiative called Vital Brooklyn -- a $1.4 billion plan designed by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration to revitalize Central Brooklyn that includes a $700 million investment in healthcare, the area that Thompson has helped inform.

In the early 1990s Dinkins era, Thompson oversaw housing coordination and became the Deputy General Manager for Operations and Development at the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA).

In returning to city government he said he has an “understanding” of what de Blasio is trying to achieve in New York City, and that the mayor’s “been the same” for as long as they’ve known each other. “We all started out together like, ‘how do we actually make change for people who are suffering?’ That's really what it’s about,” Thompson said of how he and de Blasio see the work of government.

It’s unclear if Thompson will be roped into helping NYCHA recover from scandal and implement the terms of a consent decree with federal prosecutors announced on Monday (several days after Thompson appeared on the podcast). It is clear that he is approaching his job as one that stretches across virtually all city agencies, overlapping at times with other deputy mayors, and that allows him leeway to think in systems and at large scale.

Having only been in his new job a couple of months, Thompson was mostly able to speak broadly to his portfolio, which includes certain policies and programs launched under Buery, like the expansion of pre-kindergarten to all three-year-olds, but also new areas, like the administration’s democracy agenda to increase civic participation. He is tasked by de Blasio will coordinating the city’s effort to ensure an accurate Census count in 2020. Part of that work, he said, will be convincing traditionally undercounted populations, such as immigrant communities and African-American communities, to participate in full.

Thompson outlined several concrete ideas he is interested in pursuing, such as for creating jobs in the city to address not only unemployment, but also to improve health outcomes and strengthen communities in areas such as Brooklyn and the Bronx.

“When you look at what leads to coronary heart disease, of which there’s a lot of in these places, it’s stress mainly due to poverty and unemployment. [There’s] stress due to lack of stable housing, and then there’s bad food habits - it’s expensive to get healthy food,” he said on the podcast.

It’s a sentiment similar to that in a 2016 paper, in which Thompson and his co-authors argued racial discrimination felt by children of color at schools, and in legal and health systems, can trigger a physiological stress response that leads to additional health problems in these demographics. By addressing the source of this stress by reducing discrimination, increasing employment, and reducing poverty, Thompson thinks the overworked health system will be somewhat relieved, too.

“Addressing something like our exorbitant expenses in healthcare ultimately means keeping people out of hospitals but that means really addressing unemployment,” Thompson said.

A starting point, he said, could be using some of the city’s massive procurement budget to build local furniture to service hospitals and schools. “One of the things we’re really interested in is maybe a furniture factory to make furniture for hospitals, and the hospitals are really interested in that,” he said. “They buy a lot of furniture, as do our schools. Why not make it locally? Why not have a company that’s locally owned or worker owned, or a co-op?”

Thompson’s seen success in this first-hand, and believes it can be replicated across New York City. He was involved in a 2013 paper that analyzed the merits of a 2005 case study, in which University Hospitals (UH) in Cleveland, Ohio, constructed five major medical facilities, as well as expand a number of existing facilities, with the goal of boosting community wealth in the process.

Working with the mayor’s office, as well as local building trade unions, UH vowed that 80 percent of contracts would go to businesses that were regionally owned in Northeast Ohio, with five percent of contracts going to female-owned businesses and 15 percent to minority-owned businesses. Beyond 2010, all purchases from UH over $20,000 now require at least one bid from a local, minority-owned firm -- UH spends at least $800 million to contractors each year.

Thompson and his co-authors called the Cleveland case study “pathbreaking” in the 2013 paper, and touted it as a “powerful model for how a place-based institution can...better the long-term welfare of the community in which it is located.”

Another example, Thompson said on the podcast, of different departments coming together to deliver comprehensive change to the city is the Healthy Buildings Project in the Bronx. The project saw 50 buildings retrofitted with the goal of removing mold, roaches, and rodents to reduce repeat asthma cases. At the same time, the apartments were retrofitted to increase energy efficiency and the savings this caused -- in reducing energy bills, and in selling power back to the grid -- helped pay for the asthma retrofit.

“That takes bringing together a bunch of different city departments and state and funding streams and figuring out the financing, which is all complicated. But that’s the kind of thing we need to do in order to really address the health disparity crisis,” Thompson said, adding the “silo approach” so often seen in government is “not very strategic and not very smart.”

“It’s definitely a challenge, it’s always been a challenge,” Thompson said of bureaucracy and government silos, especially in a government the size of New York City’s. “That’s a lot of what I’ve been doing in my prior life, before coming here, is trying to break through those silos.”

“I wrote a book about the Dinkins experience and about black mayors and the point of the book was really to explain the problematic of trying to use City Hall to change policies on behalf of low-income people when they're all sorts of entrenched interests that basically push in the other direction,” he added.

Going forward, Thompson is eager to see the de Blasio administration take on the big issues like climate change, technology, and education in a way far different from the “narrow-mindedness” of the Trump administration. Asked if part of his job is to help de Blasio become less risk averse and get more creative, Thompson said has been bold in pursuing universal pre-kindergarten, which he called “4-K,” and the broad mental health program being led by First Lady Chirlane McCray.

“I don’t think the mayor is risk averse. I don’t think the mayor had any idea 4K would work when he first started it - I think that was just a bold thing and ThriveNYC was a bold thing,” Thompson said. “I also don’t think the government’s role is risk averse...I came from 18 years at MIT, I got to tell you, computers and the internet came from 20 years of consistent funding from government, which took the risk out of it. You could screw up a thousand times, which they did, but the government said ‘it’s real strategic for us to develop these systems,’ No venture capitalist would have put the money in over a 20-year period not knowing what was going to happen.”

“The government's role is exactly to socialize risk,” Thompson continued. “The government's role is to say, ‘this is something, as a city or as a country, we have to do so we’re going to invest.’”

***
by Caitlin Bishop, Gotham Gazette
@caitybishop  @GothamGazette

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