NEW YORK — New York City's billionaire mayor is using his personal fortune to try to spark innovation in the nation's cities — inviting 1,300 mayors to compete for millions of dollars in funding for new programs meant to solve urban challenges and enhance city life.
The mayors of U.S. municipalities with at least 30,000 residents will be asked to join the Mayors Challenge, being launched Wednesday by Bloomberg Philanthropies, which is offering a grand prize of $5 million and four smaller prizes of $1 million. The foundation is asking the mayors to focus on initiatives that could be replicated elsewhere if successful.
The program aims to reward the creation of great ideas that can ultimately make a difference in many cities, Mayor Michael Bloomberg told The Associated Press in an interview.
"We all have similar problems," said Bloomberg, estimated by Forbes magazine to be the 20th richest man in the world with a net worth of $22 billion. "Everybody's got financial problems. Everybody's got health problems. Everybody's got problems in how they bring crime down and improve education. How they communicate with the taxpayer, the citizens. How they provide services and make sure they're targeted and efficient."
Bloomberg, who has said that he plans to focus full-time on his philanthropy after his third term ends in 2013, argued that mayors are better positioned than community organizations, governors and even presidents to make a difference when it comes to delivering services.
"Governors and presidents redistribute and work at a different level, a policy level. Mayors have to get stuff done," Bloomberg said. "Organizations tend to talk a lot, and some do some things. Mayors don't have that option. Mayors, if you don't deliver something, you are out of office pretty quickly."
The challenge is part of the philanthropy's Mayors Project, which has already paid to install teams in Atlanta, Chicago, Louisville, Memphis and New Orleans to work on initiatives in areas including small-business growth and crime reduction. Under the $24 million initiative, the teams report directly to the mayors of those cities.
Applications for the Mayors Challenge will be due Sept. 14, and winners will be announced in May after teams from finalist cities attend an "Ideas Camp" at which they can refine their proposals.
Under the contest rules, cities must propose ideas that improve "city life by addressing a major social or economic issue, improving the customer service experience for citizens or businesses, increasing government efficiency, and/or enhancing accountability, transparency, and public engagement," according to the foundation.
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