Say hello to New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, the Teacup Yorkie of municipal watchdogs. Teacups are the doggies all the other pups at Westminster make fun of — tiny, toothless and about as far removed from ancestral wolfdom as can be imagined.
Watchdogs, they ain’t.
The same can be said of Stringer, who is fresh off a year-long look at the biggest boondoggle to plague Gotham since bike lanes — co-mayor Chirlane McCray’s ThriveNYC mental-health initiative. Scott barked weakly, then moved on.
Oh, sure, Stringer said, “If we are going to construct a program that works, it cannot be a political program. It has to be a program that has real results and a way to measure effectiveness.”
Then Stringer delivered his verdict: ThriveNYC, ostensibly meant to deliver high-quality services to Gotham’s mentally ill, would be placed on a “watch-list,” presumably for further study.
Oh, dear! What a tragic fate.
Look, let’s be clear: If ever a program lacked “real results” and “effectiveness,” it’s ThriveNYC. It can’t even pass a laugh test, being, as it is, a make-work initiative set up by Mayor Bill de Blasio to give Ms. McCray something to do — and, it now seems, to provide her a bit of exposure in advance of what Hizzoner says could be a run for Brooklyn borough president.
As if Brooklyn doesn’t already have enough problems.
ThriveNYC has burned through a billion dollars or so, with no end in sight, and, as for “real results” and “effectiveness,” just try to find a credible defender of the program.
Or, more to the point, take a look at all the crazy people living in the city’s subways and transportation terminals and panhandling in its public spaces. Really, how much further study does this debacle require? What does Stringer need to make him do more than rub his chin and cluck his tongue?
Ex officio, city comptrollers don’t lack for tools:
- There’s Stringer’s “watch-list” approach, of course. He will check back in another year or so to report results.
- There is any comptroller’s power to disapprove spending contracts; really, all Stringer has to do when dollars are circling the drain is to twist shut the faucet.
- And there is always the bully pulpit, which can have a dramatically corrective effect all its own — for those with the courage to use it.
But courage is a commodity the politically ambitious — if somewhat wilting on the vine — Stringer conspicuously seems to lack. And there is a good reason for that.
Tradition and term limits for most of the city’s elected office-holders have created a step-ladder process for pols looking to move up — reach one level and wait patiently for the next to open up while being very careful to rock no political boats.
And Stringer, who has been on line for the mayoralty for some years now, knows quite well which boats not to rock. High on the list is New York’s not-for-profit community, an agglomeration of ostensible do-good organizations through which the city directs the bulk of its billions in discretionary spending every year.
At their best, nonprofits do good work, largely relieving the city of the need to expand the municipal leviathan to deliver services deemed essential.
At their worst, which is where one can find far too many of them, they are tax-dollar-sucking, high-salary-paying patronage sumps that know their value to the political cycle; skeevy politicians count on them come Election Day and rarely are disappointed.
ThriveNYC runs dozens of alleged mental-health programs, the vast majority through nonprofits. The city’s megabucks pre-K daycare program is hugely invested in nonprofits. Ditto for de Blasio’s homeless-housing program; spending there has doubled since 2014, to $2 billion from $1 billion, to no discernible good effect.
A fierce watchdog would have piled one performance audit of those programs on top of another over the past six years; a Teacup Yorkie, not really.
Thus two of the big-ticket programs are fundamentally unexamined public failures, and nobody knows about the third, pre-K, because nobody has looked. Apart from the burned billions, how many lives have gone forfeit along the way?
The city’s co-mayors haven’t a clue (though, to be fair, that’s true of their approach to governance in general). Stringer’s lack of curiosity is less forgivable — it’s his job to have a clue, after all — and by now the relevant questions are these: Is Scott Stringer angling for nonprofit support as he moves into his mayoral campaign, or is he so bashful because he really is a Teacup Yorkie? Fifty-fifty, it says here.