The national economy is humming along, but in America’s greatest city it feels like the canaries in the coal mine are starting to drop dead. A “progressive” mob so terrified the Amazon behemoth that it abandoned plans to build a giant technology hub in New York and fled, costing the city 25,000 jobs. Murders and domestic assaults, while still low by historical measures, have jumped. Ditto hate crimes. So-called “quality of life” offenses like subway turnstile jumping, public urination, public drinking and littering have been decriminalized as part of the social experiment. Mayor Bill de Blasio recently abandoned his highly touted education “Renewal” program, an attempt to improve struggling schools, after throwing $773 million at it. And reports now indicate that the mayor’s wife, Chirlane McCray, has blown $850 million in a poorly managed mental health initiative.
Ms. McCray, a former freelance writer and public-affairs specialist, leads “ThriveNYC,” a sprawling and ambitious effort to improve the city’s mental health practices. It’s a smorgasbord of social programs reaching into more than a dozen city agencies.
“In January 2015, I had the honor of announcing an unprecedented commitment by the City of New York to create a mental health system that works for all New Yorkers,” Ms. McCray wrote in a Thrive report. Everything, it seemed, was on the table: suicide, anxiety, depression, discrimination, substance abuse, maternal and fetal health, hospitals, homelessness, housing, jails, veteran affairs, youth issues, LGBT issues, parenting issues, senior citizens, schooling, public awareness, citizen education, physician training, public and private sector partnerships. The system would operate “in part through 54 targeted initiatives— representing an investment of $850 million over four years—that together comprise an entirely new and more holistic approach to mental health in New York City,” the report noted.
Four years later, no one can figure out where the money went.
Politico broke the story in late February with a detailed piece noting that the $850 million initiative “has operated without much scrutiny or accountability.” Two budget breakdowns obtained by Politico showed wildly varying spending numbers–$594 million from a City Hall accounting, $816 million from the city’s Independent Budget Office.
“With few public metrics by which to measure its success so far, and the broad strokes used by city officials to describe its operations, the city has offered little insight into how it has assessed Thrive’s efficacy since it began,” Politico reported. More than a dozen individuals involved with Thrive at various levels told Politico “they did not know whether Thrive was successful and said the city has an obligation to publicize its numbers and how it compares to the goals it set out to accomplish.”
Reaction to the Politico disclosures was swift. City Council members complained that promised programs had not appeared in their districts and demanded answers on spending. Councilman Joe Borelli directed City Hall to produce Thrive’s performance data for the past four years. “It’s critically important for all city initiatives to maintain a level of transparency which allows the public to have oversight and allay concerns about government waste,” Borelli said, “especially with tremendous sums.”
City Comptroller Scott Stringer announced plans to investigate. “I’ve had concerns about the lack of transparency in the Thrive program,” Stringer said at a press conference. He said he “sent a letter to Mayor de Blasio asking for a trove of information raising concerns about the program and whether, in fact, we are seeing results for the $850 million.”
The apparent waste of $850 million on the overreaching Thrive scheme, plus the abandonment of the mayor’s “Renewal” school program—”pounding $773 million down a rathole,” in the words of longtime New York political observer Bob McManus—puts the taxpayer bill for these two boondoggles at more than $1.6 billion.
But in the end, it’s not just about the money, as McManus notes. It’s about real people suffering.
“The programs at issue ostensibly are meant to assist particularly challenged people,” McManus writes, “the helpless, often homeless, mentally ill and small children whose futures are forfeited because they landed in shamefully nonfunctional schools, an experience from which they will never recover. But there are other mysteries out there, too. Does anybody know how well—more likely, how poorly—the [de Blasios’] hugely expensive pre-K program is working, especially that portion consigned to the city’s notoriously problematic not-for-profit sector? How about the Hurricane Sandy recovery effort—six years, uncountable delays and billions of dollars later? Has anybody even looked?”
There’s no simple solution to complex issues of urban education, mental health and the fraying of the social fabric. But it starts with transparency and accountability. Both have been lacking in the de Blasio era of city government.
Micah Morrison is chief investigative reporter for Judicial Watch. Follow him on Twitter @micah_morrison. Tips: email@example.com
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