Looking to move past scandal, Mayor’s Fund rebrands itself

City Hall
Getty Images

A rebranding is the “last and final step” in the Mayor’s Fund for Philadelphia’s attempt to move past an era of financial improprieties, the executive director of the city-connected nonprofit said Wednesday.

The Mayor’s Fund will now be known as the Philadelphia City Fund, a name that “more accurately describes the fund’s role as an independent nonprofit that supports innovative city projects,” Jody Greenblatt, the organization’s leader, told reporters.

“I believe that we support the priorities of the administration, not the mayor him- or herself,” she said.

Greenblatt said she also hopes to reestablish the fund’s position within City Hall and in the philanthropic community, several years after its former leader was sentenced to house arrest for illegally diverting funds away from the organization.

The fund facilitates public-private partnerships, overseeing around $22 million a year. Among its duties is distributing grants from money generated through the Philadelphia Marathon.

Agencies in the mayor’s office work with the Philadelphia City Fund to apply for grant opportunities offered by foundations that typically don’t financially support municipal governments, Greenblatt said. Philanthropists tend to prefer sending dollars to 501c3 nonprofits.

It was founded in 1979 as the Council for Progress and has undergone several name changes – most recently in 2012, when the nonprofit was rebranded as the Mayor’s Fund for Philadelphia under then Mayor Michael Nutter.

During his administration, the fund came under scrutiny from City Controller Alan Butkovitz and the Inquirer for financial irregularities.

City Representative Desiree Peterkin-Bell, who oversaw the fund as part of her role, was charged in 2018 with billing just under $20,000 to city cards for personal expenses, including Uber riders, meals and vacations.

Peterkin-Bell, prosecutors said, also illegally transferred $225,000 from a cycling event to cover shortfalls elsewhere. She pleaded guilty in 2019 and was ordered to remain on house arrest for three months and pay nearly $20,000 in restitution.

Mayor Jim Kenney moved to reform the fund’s board, and Greenblatt was appointed as the first full-time executive director four years ago.

“We believe that we have all the safeguards needed in place,” Greenblatt said Wednesday. “With clean audits, we feel very comfortable in how we are operating.”

In recent months, the organization collaborated with the Kenney administration to set up the Philadelphia Welcoming Fund to respond to busloads of asylum seekers arriving in the city from Texas.

So far, Greenblatt said, the effort has collected more than $137,000 – which has been distributed to community groups aiding the migrants.

The Philadelphia City Fund also managed about $12 million in private funds donated to PHLConnectED, an initiative established in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic to connect families to the internet.

On a yearly basis, the fund operates a community grant program, with $250,000 from the marathon. Greenblatt said this year’s focus will be promoting health equity. Through its Innovation Fund, the nonprofit contributes $50,000 annually to pay for pilot programs within city government.