Ilya Marritz covers business for WNYC.
George Soros, the wealthy hedge fund manager, is backing a “public engagement” effort focused on the next mayoral administration in New York. The project, called Talking Transition, is physically taking shape on a lot in lower Manhattan owned by Trinity Real Estate.
Soros, the founder of the Open Society Foundations, endorsed candidate Bill de Blasio for Mayor in August and has contributed the legal limit of $4,950 to his campaign. De Blasio is leading the race by a wide margin in opinion polls.
Laura Silber, director of public affairs for OSF, confirmed Soros' involvement in Talking Transition, and said nine other groups are partners, including the Ford Foundation. Silber said the effort is non-partisan. A de Blasio campaign spokesperson said the campaign is not involved in the project now taking shape downtown.
"We're very excited about giving New Yorkers the opportunity to lend their voice to the transition in an unprecedented way," Silber said, adding that more details would become available next week.
A Department of Buildings notice says Talking Transition has an event planned for Nov. 6, the day after Election Day.
On Thursday afternoon, about a dozen construction workers in hard hats and neon vests appeared to be assembling a raised floor on a gravel lot on Canal Street. The site also includes a large, transparent, house-like structure, resembling a temporary information kiosk. There are several stationary trucks, piles of electrical cable, and portable lavatories on the perimeter.
New York Magazine first reported on the “mysterious structure.” A job listing obtained by the magazine, which has since been deleted from the web, says:
"Talking Transition will pioneer the first “open” transition in New York City. It will transform what is usually an insular, closed-door process between Election Day and Inauguration into an opportunity for broad public engagement. Thousands of New Yorkers will participate in public conversations about policy issues, ideas and questions that affect their communities. Over the course of two weeks, starting the day after Election Day, Talking Transition will create the space for these conversations, hosting live events in a highly accessible central “think tent,” and reaching deep into neighborhoods in all five boroughs through a mobile, interactive digital engagement in the streets and online, and an event strategy delivered in partnership with the public library systems and neighborhood organizations."
Soros’ relationship with de Blasio goes back to 2011, when Soros gave $400,000 to de Blasio’s Coalition for Accountability in Political Spending, a group aimed at increasing transparency in political spending by corporations.
Talking Transition is building something on the lot on Canal Street, but workers won't say what it is.
Additional reporting from Andrea Bernstein and Anna Sale.
Clarification: an earlier version of this story did not include confirmation from OSF of its involvement in Talking Transition.