When Mayor Bloomberg’s plans for New York City failed to gain popular support, his vast philanthropic network helped gin up the illusion.

The plan was shocking even in Mike Bloomberg’s New York: At the height of the Great Recession, with the number of homeless people approaching record highs, the city had quietly begun charging rent from working families living in its rundown shelters.

“People were just outraged by that policy,” said Patrick Markee, then a senior policy analyst at the Coalition for the Homeless. Social services advocates had already found a lot to dislike about Bloomberg’s personal responsibility approach to homelessness, and Markee figured that organizing a swift and unified backlash would be no problem.

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But almost immediately, reliable allies in the nonprofit world declined to take a public stand against Mayor Bloomberg, for fear of alienating their most important donor: Mayor Bloomberg.

It was a familiar situation to countless others who tried to oppose Bloomberg in the 12 years he ruled City Hall. Bloomberg was simultaneously the city’s top elected official and its most outsized philanthropist. Over more than a decade, his sprawling philanthropic network gave away approximately $3 billion, leaving almost no one in civic life who didn’t rely in ways large or small on his continued generosity.

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