McDonald: Doe Fund work key to mayoral bid

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Dan Janison Melville. N.Y. Tuesday January 26, 2010. Daniel Janison,

Dan Janison has been a reporter at Newsday since 1997, initially as a staff writer for the New ...

The mayoral field has narrowed in New York City's outnumbered Republican Party. Publisher Tom Allon dropped out, and chances seem to be fading for Independence Party candidate Adolfo Carrion to persuade GOP officials to allow him into a primary.

That leaves Joe Lhota, John Catsimatidis and George McDonald in the hunt. McDonald may face the toughest path of the three, as he lacks Catsimatidis' private fortune and Lhota's government resume.

McDonald is known in civic circles as founder and leader of the nonprofit Doe Fund, which provides transitional housing and jobs for the homeless. Begun at Grand Central Terminal as a response to the homelessness crisis of the 1980s, it operates with a mix of private and public grants.

Why run? "I think we're headed for some racial turmoil," McDonald, 68, said Monday inside a sprawling brick Doe Fund facility in an old industrial stretch of Porter Avenue, Brooklyn. "I think what the city is going to be looking for is someone who's going to address that in a meaningful way." He cited alarmingly high unemployment among minority youth ages 18 to 26.

McDonald said that to win he must link his name to the program's successes in getting people jobs.

He says there are minority voters familiar with or helped by the Doe program who say they've registered Republican and are getting family members to do so. "There's only going to be about 40,000 people who vote in the Republican primary . . . Well, a good voter-registration campaign is part of the process."

Asked if he might support Lhota if his own bid fails, McDonald replied: "I remember what it was like at the end of the Giuliani administration and it wasn't pretty. So we can romanticize it all we want and say we want to go back to those good old days . . . but there was great racial tension. I think we've made great progress over these past 12 years with [Mayor Michael] Bloomberg. Now the challenge is to preserve the gains we've made and move forward."

In 2008, McDonald vocally supported extending Bloomberg's limit from two to three terms. Rebuffing those who inferred his motive from the mayor's longtime support of the Doe Fund, McDonald noted that he opposed the initial term-limit referendum approved 20 years ago when billionaire Ron Lauder was funding that effort.

Not that he'd try to abolish term limits if elected. "No, it's done," he said with a laugh. "Believe me, it's done."

In discussing how he'd bring his experience to managing City Hall finances, McDonald said unionized employees will need to pay for health care and he downplayed the prospects of retroactive raises from expired contracts. He also said the city should have the right to determine who's eligible for shelters.

"New York City gives more philanthropic aid and government aid than any of the top 20 cities but we want the right to be able to ask the guy who just got off a bus from Jersey City if there isn't a better alternative that we can check out for him in Jersey City," McDonald said.

Most of all, he talks about uplifting individuals and families for whom "it seems like their boats are anchored to the bottom whether the tide rises or not. How do I know we can do that? Because I've done it for 25 years."

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