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Jun 25, 2017 8:26 PM

Bloomberg to launch $17M contest for US cities

The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — Eager to help local leaders bypass Washington, New York billionaire Michael Bloomberg's foundation is putting up more than $17 million for a new contest that encourages the nation's mayors to address critical issues themselves.

The new effort, to be announced publicly on Monday, comes as local leaders are increasingly concerned about the impact of the Trump administration's policies.

Thirty five cities will ultimately win $100,000, while four more receive $1 million and one grand prize winner gets $5 million. There is no limit to the focus of the projects, but some are expected to address Bloomberg priorities such as climate change, the opioid epidemic, illegal guns and obesity.

"It's a critical moment to support U.S. cities," said James Anderson, a senior official at Bloomberg Philanthropies. He suggested mayors currently face challenges "from all directions," including overbearing elected officials in state capitals and Washington.

He did not address intensifying concerns from local leaders about President Donald Trump, whose policies on several issues clash with those of many mayors and Bloomberg himself.

Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor, noted that he did not vote for Trump during an appearance last week on ABC's "The View," but he offered signs of tepid support for the Republican president.

"In the end, we're a democracy. The public has spoken whether you like the results or not, other than with a little help from the Russians, he was elected," Bloomberg said.

But Bloomberg, a former Republican turned independent, is not necessarily putting his money where his mouth is.

The new contest is part of a larger $200 million initiative aimed at helping America's cities that he plans to announce Monday at the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Miami. He is increasingly using his personal fortune to encourage policymakers to work around Washington.

Bloomberg already plays a significant role in shaping some of the nation's fiercest policy debates, having invested millions of dollars in one advocacy group that pushes for stronger gun control and another that promotes liberal immigration policies. He has also made $80 million in donations to the Sierra Club in recent years to help combat climate change.

He last funded a similar contest for U.S. mayors in 2013, but moved the initiative to Latin America and Europe in recent years. Past winners include a project to fight childhood obesity in Chile, another to combat climate change in Sweden and a project to improve public safety in Philadelphia.

All American cities with at least 30,000 residents are eligible to apply. Applications are due in October with the winners to be announced in October 2018.

Providence, Rhode Island, will among those competing, said Democratic Mayor Jorge Elorza.

His city won the competition in 2013 with a project that helped improve early childhood development in low-income homes. Elorza predicted strong interest from city leaders this time around given widespread fear about the Trump administration's policies on immigration, education and health care.

"There's a big change in anxiety level," Elorza said. "The fate of our communities is on us."

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