Press & Media

Mike Bloomberg and General Colin Powell Address 347 City Leaders at Second Virtual Convening to Aid COVID-19 Social and Economic Recovery

General Colin L. Powell, USA (RET) shared advice from his experience in the military with U.S. mayors on the front lines managing the pandemic

Bloomberg Philanthropies in partnership with the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Continue Virtual Convenings for Local Leaders  

New York, NY: Mike Bloomberg and Colin Powell, Former U.S. Secretary of State and Chairman  of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, addressed more than 347 city leaders, including 132 mayors, from 213 cities at the second session of the Leading Social and Economic Recovery Series, the latest offering for cities as part of the Bloomberg Philanthropies COVID-19 Local Response Initiative.

The Leading Social and Economic Recovery Series virtually convenes global city leaders monthly through the end of the year. The sessions focus on equitable recovery, building and maintaining resident trust, crisis budgeting and fiscal recovery, and supporting the city workforce during a period of profound change and uncertainty.

“When you’re facing a problem, the way to go about it, is first and foremost, get all the information you can about that problem and make sure you talk to anybody and everybody who might have some insight into that problem,” said General Colin Powell. “I did that throughout my entire career. Even when I was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or Secretary of State, I would invite in the most junior people if they had something to offer to the solution. And so, what we tried to do is narrow the problem down, and then I would make a judgment as the boss…But that decision was well supported by a great team of people and my instinct that is an informed instinct because I’ve done the research.”

Commenting on the Administration’s response to the pandemic, General Powell noted, “We’re not doing that anymore in the administration or in this government. There seemed to be no analysis of the decision that was made. It seems like it just came flying on out, out of the White House or somewhere else in government. This is not a good way to make decisions.”

General Powell called upon mayors to make informed decisions, saying “I strongly urge those of you who are still thinking about how to make decisions, and I suspect many of you are, but just make sure that you take advantage of the people who have been entrusted to your care, who can give you insight. Take advantage of the talent that is available to you in your mayoral office or anywhere else in the government of the United States of America.”

“Our current 7-day average is over 66,000 a day. Meanwhile, cases in Europe and other parts of the world continued to decline while we were going off the deep end. And it’s not hard to figure out why we did so poorly,” said Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg LP and Bloomberg Philanthropies, and three-term mayor of NYC, at the top of the session. “Too many governors were too quick to reopen businesses, especially bars and restaurants. Too many governors failed to invest in robust contact tracing programs. And too many governors turned wearing masks into a partisan issue. Or to put it another way: Too many governors listened to the White House instead of to the public health experts and to all of you.”

Bloomberg continued, praising the role mayors have played in leading the response to the crisis, “I think it’s safe to say that if they had taken their cues from you, we would not be in this mess. You’re the ones who are getting the message out about mask wearing and social distancing. You’re the ones who are ensuring that at least some precautions are put in place when a governor pushes to reopen too quickly. You’re the ones that are sounding the alarm when case numbers start to rise in your cities and the public starts to hold you responsible.”

“We have to stay focused on solutions, but we do [also] have to have a say in the way the White House has politicized this public health issue which is just unconscionable. And it’s not just the way we’ve treated masks and re-openings – or their attacks on Dr. Fauci,” concluded Bloomberg. “Last week, the White House had the nerve to tell hospitals to stop sending patient data to the CDC – the world’s premier public health agency. Instead, the White House wants hospitals to send the data to the Department of Health and Human Services – where it could be manipulated for political purposes. We have now over 140,000 people that have died in America, and the White House is playing politics with the numbers.”

Bloomberg and Powell were joined by Harvard Business School Professor Rawi Abdelal, the faculty co-chair of the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative, Professor Juliette Kayyem, Senior Belfer Lecturer in International Security at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, MD, Vice Dean for Public Health Practice and Community Engagement for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and director of the Bloomberg American Health Initiative.

Bloomberg Philanthropies launched the COVID-19 Local Response Initiative in March to help cities combat the devastating impact of coronavirus on the wellbeing of residents and local economies. Working with the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the network provides mayors with the most up-to-date information on the virus from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and leadership guidance from experts across Harvard.

Professor Kayyem provided actionable strategies for effective communication in the midst of a complex and evolving crisis, contradictory or unreliable information, and a shifting operational environment.

“State and local leaders are up against a news environment that thrives on political conflict, torrents of disinformation, a constantly shifting environment, and widespread social unrest,” said Kayyem. “The task before leaders is to communicate with authority in the absence of certainty, with hope in a time of dread, and with a message of solidarity in a time of acrimony.”

Since launching, hundreds of city leaders have joined the virtual convenings While the aim of the first series was to provide cities with the tools to understand, respond and manage a dynamic public health crisis, the second series addresses social and economic recovery.

The program has featured President Bill Clinton, President George W. Bush, President Barack Obama, Bill Gates, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, Chef José Andrés, Vice President Joe Biden, Dr. Anthony Fauci, and Ford Foundation President Darren Walker.

About Bloomberg Philanthropies
Bloomberg Philanthropies invests in more than 570 cities and over 160 countries around the world to ensure better, longer lives for the greatest number of people. The organization focuses on five key areas for creating lasting change: the Arts, Education, Environment, Government Innovation and Public Health. Bloomberg Philanthropies encompasses all of Michael R. Bloomberg’s giving, including his foundation and personal philanthropy as well as Bloomberg Associates, a pro bono consultancy that works in cities around the world. In 2019, Bloomberg Philanthropies distributed $3.3 billion. For more information, please visit bloomberg.org or follow us on FacebookInstagramYouTubeTwitter, and TikTok.

About the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative
The Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative is a collaboration between Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard Business School, and Bloomberg Philanthropies to equip mayors and senior city officials to tackle complex challenges in their cities and improve the quality of life of their citizens. Launched in 2017, the Initiative has worked with over 1000 mayors and senior city officials in 350 cities worldwide. The Initiative has also advanced research and developed new curriculum and teaching tools to help city leaders solve real-world problems. For more information, please visit the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative or visit us on LinkedIn and Twitter.