STUMP » Articles » New York City Shenanigans: Slush Funds Just Ain't What They Used to Be » 29 March 2019, 11:48

Where Stu & MP spout off about everything.

New York City Shenanigans: Slush Funds Just Ain't What They Used to Be  


29 March 2019, 11:48

So, I’m a bit tired about beating up on Chicago, especially since so many currently there are doing that job this week. If you want to read on those shenanigans, I recommend Second City Cop and CWB Chicago. Lots of interesting stuff there.

Let’s beat up on New York City, which also deserves it, and perhaps more.

There’s too much money in Chirlane McCray’s hands

Mayor Bill de Blasio likes to say that there’s plenty of money in New York City, but that it’s in the wrong hands.

Chirlane McCray’s, perhaps?

The first spouse went before the City Council Tuesday — tripping spectacularly over her own tongue while removing any doubt that her billion-dollar husbandly indulgence, ThriveNYC, amounts to an epic public policy swindle gussied up as a mental health program.

Still, questions linger.

Such as, how did it happen that Thrive burned through more $565 million over four-plus years to no appreciable good effect with nobody noticing?

Certainly not the City Council, a legislative body comprising 50 stuffed cabbages and a speaker who wants to be mayor — a fellow who stood by incuriously as the city’s streets and subways slowly filled with insane people, many of them threatening and dangerous.

So, I have a question.


How many members of the City Council actually know anything about money?

I am not joking about this. How many of these people understand about how money flows around, how one provides oversight for that sort of thing, and how to detect when something is off?

Here is the list of the council members, and I could click through each, but I decided to start with the Republicans (because there are only 3 out of the 51 seats):

Eric Ulrich, in Queens, has a degree in political science, and it seems he’s just a politician. He graduated college in 2007, so he’s pretty young. Not on the Finance committee.

Steven Matteo, on Staten Island, and he’s got undergrad degree in PoliSci and has a JD. Yay. A lawyer. He’s on the finance committee, but hell if I know how much he knows about finance.

Joseph Borelli, also from Staten Island, is ALSO a PoliSci major, yadda yadda. Not sure if he’s on any committees at all.

Those are the Repubs.

I’m not going to detail the several Dems. Let’s just look at those on the Finance committee.

I will not link all these people. You can follow that link and see if what I write accords with what they say.

  • Daniel Dromm (Chair): ex-elementary school teacher
  • Keith Powers: PoliSci grad, long time in politics
  • Helen Rosenthal: I have no idea. All the stuff is about her politics, not about her background. I even went to her personal site and found the same focus.
  • Andrew Cohen: lawyer
  • Vanessa L. Gibson: has a Masters in Public Administration
  • Francisco Moya: Has MPA, long time political career
  • Barry Grodenchik: degrees in economics and history (FINALLY, somebody with a money connection)
  • Rory I. Lancman: lawyer
  • Jimmy Van Bramer: when to St. John’s, no clue what he studied. Mainly govt work in past
  • Adrienne E. Adams: degree in psychology
  • Laurie A. Cumbo: arts background
  • Robert E. Cornegy, Jr.: used to play basketball in college, has degrees in Organizational Leadership
  • Steven Matteo: lawyer

So, of the people I see above, only one has an educational tie to anything regarding money, and it’s not like economics majors actually understand finance, in terms of what accountants need to track, audits, and all that jazz.

Theoretically, the two people with MPAs should have been taught about public finance, but, looking at what I assume is a representative list of MPA courses, I’m not seeing much in the way re: preventing fraud and corruption.


So… let’s see what answers the council folks got:

More telling was that neither Herman nor McCray could even tell the council how many people are on Thrive’s payrolls — though surely there are many.

And just as surely, jobs are the point — both municipal positions and employment with the numberless, anonymous, unaccountable and usually politically connected not-for-profit agencies that live off city dollars.

For, clearly, the objective can’t be services.

Council members learned Tuesday that only $30 million of Thrive’s $250 million annual budget — an anemic 12 percent — is spent on the seriously mentally ill, with the remainder of that enormously expensive burden shunted off to the city’s more traditional social services agencies.

(And don’t forget the Department of Correction: A huge but ultimately unknowable percentage of New York’s mentally ill reside on Rikers Island and in other lock-ups.)

Her performance left council members blinking.

“We know as little about the program after the hearing as we knew before the hearing,” said Councilman Ritchie Torres (D-Bronx). “There is no evidence it’s working.”

On Wednesday, councilmembers were huffing that de Blasio has been showering his wife with tax dollars with embarrassing results. This seems laughingly obvious, except that this is Gotham and Mrs. Mayor may simply be fronting her program’s principal beneficiaries — the municipal unions and the nonprofits.

Let us look at the highlighted sentence.

It doesn’t really matter what the results were. I think they should huff that the mayor has been shoveling a bunch of money to his wife’s organization. Is the city budget their personal playground, eh? Nobody voted for Mrs. Mayor. I don’t remember any of prior Mrs. Mayors getting a large chunk of change from the city to run a nonprofit. This is so obviously poor governance, even if she got good results. Who are they, Chicago?

Are these the same people bitching about Ivanka Trump and her husband doing various things for Trump? (which I think is a legit bitchery… I also think Bobby Kennedy shouldn’t have been in his brother’s cabinet.)

Still, let us go back to the original question: where is the money actually going? Has this org filed any financial documents?

It was said the org was founded in November 2015, and if it’s a nonprofit, it should be filing Form 990s, right?

Oh wait, it’s actually part of the city government. Now I’m really getting the outrage.

The mayor’s wife has no business doing this crap. First off, if this is supposed to be a continuing effort, then this should be run by either an explicitly elected official… or a professional manager. Not merely someone who just happens to be married to the boss.

Secondly, the results are extremely underwhelming:

Chirlane McCray’s ThriveNYC mental health initiative, in a damage-control road show, invited reporters Thursday to watch cops and clinicians working together in a model program to help the homeless and mentally ill.

But the $2 million “triage center” at the old Police Academy building on East 20th Street is only making a dent in the problem.

Just 885 individuals were helped by co-response teams of cops and clinicians over two-and-a-half years.

By comparison, the NYPD received nearly 180,000 calls to aid people in mental distress in 2018, up from 145,000 in 2015.

So, let us be kind and round up that 885 to 1000. So 1000 out of 180,000 — 0.56% (though, of course, some of those 180,000 calls are probably for the same people multiple times.)

NYPD Deputy Chief Terri Tobin said the triage center has helped decrease the number of contacts between clients and the police by half, based on a random sampling of 100 people.

The center does not track what happens to all its clients.
Herman predicted that the program would continue to serve more people since it’s grown from 12 staffers to 60 in October 2018.

She conceded her staff hasn’t done a good job in explaining the $250 million-a-year Thrive initiative run by Chirlane McCray, the mayor’s wife.

“I think we need to do a better job of communicating what we’re doing,” Herman admitted.

Okay, you know, it may be just the start of something that will do great things eventually. But if this is supposed to be an official city office, there needs to be better accounting of where the money is going.

I’m sure it feels good to say those asking questions are just “haters”, but if you’re doing accounting at the level where scams can easily leak through:

“The truth is haters gonna hate,” McCray said on Hot 97 radio’s “Ebro In The Morning” show, where she was with Mayor Bill de Blasio, her husband.

“That’s what it’s all about. Thrive is thriving!”

A day after ducking repeated questions from City Council members about Thrive’s spending and results, McCray began reciting statistics to promote her embattled program.

During a two-hour City Council hearing Tuesday, McCray ducked questions about spending and outcomes for Thrive, saying she came up with the idea for the initiative but day-to-day management is handled by the director, Susan Herman.

To be sure, the NYC budget is pushing $100 billion, so $250 million is 0.25% of the total budget. But this is just not appropriate.



A man has pleaded guilty to stealing a combined $122 million from Google and Facebook between 2013 and 2015.

Evaldas Rimasauskas of Lithuania managed to steal $99m from Facebook and $23m from Google by way of a simple plan: he sent invoices to the tech giants for items they hadn’t ordered. Astonishingly, both companies paid up.

A story at Boing Boing explains that the invoices were sent alongside a variety of forged paperwork, including contracts and falsely signed letters, to maintain an air of legitimacy. Rimasauskas even mocked up emails that appeared to come from corporate executives to support his demands for payment.

This is actually a very old fraud that most small business owners know about. Large corporations tend to have some better treasury functions, but hey, even some frauds get through.

Now, one can say that ThriveNYC had a legit line item in the city budget, so fair enough there… but that was to produce certain results. One at least expects an accounting of where the money has gone. I understand it can be difficult to track the people supposedly helped by this initiative (they have privacy, after all), but is it difficult for them to figure out how many people are on the payroll?

And what they’re getting paid to do?


Just a thought.

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