New York City Mayor Enlists Wealthy to Address Income Inequality

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio, who campaigned on a pledge to fight income inequality and vowed to raise taxes on the wealthy, has enlisted members of the financial elite to advance his anti-poverty agenda, Bloomberg reports.

One of those elites is Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman, who is pushing de Blasio and the city to do more to increase access to broadband in the Bronx. Another is Union Square Ventures co-founder Fred Wilson, who persuaded de Blasio to include a ten-year, $81 million effort to make computer science a requirement in city schools as part of a $186 million education initiative unveiled by the mayor in September. Wilson has committed $5 million to the project, with the Robin Hood Foundation and the AOL Charitable Foundation agreeing to match funds from the city.

"I'm invested in twenty-five technology companies and none of them can find enough workers, so I have a selfish interest in solving this," said Wilson, whose firm helped finance Twitter's early development. "Even if we just got 5 percent of the sixty-five thousand kids who graduate each year, that would amount to three thousand kids, as opposed to the five hundred now enrolled in Advanced Placement computer science."

Meanwhile, hedge-fund operators Paul Tudor Jones and William Ackman —  founders, respectively, of the Robin Hood and Pershing Square foundations — and Blackstone Group president Hamilton "Tony" E. James are looking to help the city with affordable housing, mental health, and youth employment initiatives. And last week, consumer products giant Unilever agreed to raise $4.1 million of the $5.3 million in private funds needed for a city public health program that would provide twelve low-income neighborhoods with better access to fresh fruits and vegetables, recreation and exercise, and healthcare facilities. Gabrielle Fialkoff, who coordinates de Blasio's outreach to investors and corporations as director of the Office of Strategic Partnerships, also has enlisted James and Deloitte LLP's New York managing partner Steve Gallucci to join a coalition of sixty companies to raise $5.4 million to help fund an $80 million program to connect fifty-four thousand young people to jobs and internships.

Even as the mayor's relationship with some of the city's movers and shakers has improved, however, he is facing growing criticism from neighborhood groups and past supporters. His affordable housing plan, which would use re-zoning to increase the allowable density of certain neighborhoods as a way to finance construction of below-market-rate units, has come under attack from affordable housing advocates and community boards who say the plan would spur gentrification. Other critics accuse him of being too generous with developers who would benefit from tax abatements and subsidies.

"Our city's business and philanthropic communities are critical collaborators in our work fighting against income inequality," de Blasio said in a statement released to Bloomberg. "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."