Gotham Gazette Sun, 31 May 2020 09:35:31 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Does New York City Need a Chief Diversity Officer? mayor office city hall riders

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

Many days throughout the year there are people gathered on the steps of City Hall calling on city government to make policy. On March 14, a rally of women and people of color who own businesses, organized by city Comptroller Scott Stringer, focused on a change that could significantly alter the direction of city government and opportunities for those business owners and others in similar positions.

Those in attendance were backing Stringer’s push to have the 2019 New York City Charter Revision Commission put a proposal on the November ballot to require a Chief Diversity Officer in the mayor’s cabinet and one at each city agency.

Fittingly, Mayor Bill de Blasio, AirPods in his ears, walked into City Hall at the time of the rally, seemingly paying it little mind. Over the last several years, Stringer has assailed the de Blasio administration’s approach to contracting with MWBEs -- minority- and women-owned business enterprises -- and called on the mayor to add a chief diversity officer (CDO) to his administration. De Blasio has adjusted the city’s MWBE contracting goals multiple times and created an MWBE office in 2016, but he has not created the CDO position. He has also repeatedly dismissed Stringer’s criticisms.

A second-term Democrat who created a CDO at the comptroller’s office upon taking the citywide position in 2014, Stringer has now pushed the issue to the fore as the 2019 charter commission considers what changes to the city’s central governing document and structure it will propose to voters this fall -- it is listed first among Stringer’s 65 charter revision proposals.

The City Hall rally, which included Stringer, MWBE owners, faith leaders, Manhattan City Council Member Ben Kallos, and Brooklyn Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte, came just hours before Stringer and others testified before the commission on the subject of adding the CDO positions to the charter.

Among other responsibilities, the CDO position would oversee city procurement and contracting with MWBEs, as well as strategies to improve those efforts. The city spends billions of procurement dollars each year to buy things such as office supplies or hire contractors on city construction projects. The CDO would also focus on issues of equity and diversity in city government, with each CDO at individual city agencies handling these tasks with a narrower scope.

“I’ve said to the mayor every year that we would really benefit from a chief diversity officer in City Hall,” Stringer told Gotham Gazette just after the rally. “For me, talk is cheap. We’re either going to be in the business of equality and economic justice or we’re not.”

The CDO in Stringer’s office, currently Wendy Garcia, is tasked with overseeing all of its procurement dollars, about $14 million spent annually.

“Every time I see a law or a regulation or some rule that inhibits minorities or women to have access, my job is to fix it and change it,” Garcia told Gotham Gazette in an interview. According to Stringer’s charter revision proposals, Garcia has helped the Office of the Comptroller almost double its spending with MWBEs to over 24% of its procurement spending in fiscal year 2017.

“I think people do not fully appreciate the role of the chief diversity officer,” Stringer said. “Imagine a chief diversity officer in City Hall in this building right now working every day across all agencies to look at ways to up-spend to bring more people into the procurement process. This is a necessary part of government. It’s the future of the city. There’s nothing more important than creating wealth with opportunity.”

Each year, Stringer puts out an MWBE report card for city agencies and the mayor’s office, and he includes his office as well. Six of the 32 agencies graded by the Comptroller’s Office already have CDOs: Department of Design and Construction, Department of Finance, Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, Department of Sanitation, Department of Transportation, Fire Department, and Law Department. (None of the agencies with chief diversity officers increased their share of procurement going to MWBEs by over 2.5% from 2017 to 2018 except the Department of Finance which spent only $25 million on procurement in total, about 21% of its procurement dollars.)

The Department of Design and Construction (DDC) has one of the biggest procurement budgets in city government, totaling nearly $1.7 billion, about as large as the other agencies with CDOs combined. DDC hired Chief Diversity and Industry Relations Officer Magalie D. Austin in 2014. According to budget testimony delivered last month by DDC Commissioner Lorraine Grillo, "Mayor de Blasio singled out DDC as the top performing agency in the City’s M/WBE program. We’ve awarded more than $1 billion to M/WBE firms since 2015. Between FY15 to FY18, our overall M/WBE utilization rate has increased from just under ten percent to 23 percent."

Furthermore, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and New York State also have chief diversity officers. Governor Andrew Cuomo, who took office in 2011, responded to a 2010 disparity study by focusing on the state’s procurement dollars going to MWBEs. In 2014, he upgraded his goal for MWBE utilization from 20% to 30% of the value of state contracts. In fiscal year 2017, the percentage of MWBE utilization in New York State was 28.6%, according to Empire State Development’s Division of Minority and Women's Business Development Annual Report 2018.

The state chief diversity officer originally solely oversaw the MWBE procurement process but has recently added workforce diversity and inclusion duties as well. Currently, the role of chief diversity officer is filled by Lourdes Zapata.

Other Major Cities Have CDOs
Outside of New York City, the position of chief diversity officer can be found in other major city governments around the country, almost all only created in the past five years.

There are currently chief diversity officers in Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Columbus, San Antonio, Austin, Nashville, and Buffalo. The duties (and titles) of these CDOs vary – most of the positions are human resources in nature, such as researching workplace diversity, recruiting diverse applicants for city jobs, and raising awareness for diverse hiring practices.

If the proposal passed, New York would be the first major city with a chief diversity officer whose main job duty would be to oversee procurement for MWBEs.

In Philadelphia, the role of Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer is filled by Nolan Atkinson Jr. When offered the job, “I had one qualification. I wanted the title to be the Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer,” he told Gotham Gazette in a phone interview. “I believe inclusion is vital in having a successful tenure in this position.”

Atkinson’s office provides diversity training to city employees, publishes quarterly reports, and oversees the Office of Economic Opportunity, which manages procurement to WMBEs.

Philadelphia city government awarded over $440 million out of an estimated $1.4 billion contracting budget (30.5%) to M/W/DSBE’s (Philadelphia includes business owners with a disability) in fiscal year 2018, a $128 million increase over fiscal year 2017, according to the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Commerce’s Office of Economic Opportunity Fiscal Year 2018 Annual Report. Philadelphia has set an “aspirational” goal of 35% of contracting dollars to go to diverse businesses. In terms of city employee diversity, the Philadelphia city workforce skews heavily male, at 65% of the workforce, and 58% of “new hires.”

Boston’s CDO Danielson Tavares has had more success reflecting the city’s population in the city’s workforce but does not oversee procurement.

Danielson Tavares, Chief Diversity Officer of the City of Boston, told Gotham Gazette, “my initial mandate was as to try to diversify the [city government] workforce to be as reflective of the city population as possible with special attention to underrepresented populations.”

According to the first ever workforce report looking at diversity in Boston in 2015, just 42% of city workers were non-white while 54% of the city was non-white. The December 2018 report showed that out of the nearly 1,500 new city hires in the year before the report, 55% were non-white.

Something both Atkinson and Tavares emphasized: for a CDO position to work, they need the support of the mayor of the city.

It doesn’t seem like the proposal has it in New York.

The New York City Push, MWBE Spending, & the Charter Revision Commission
In a statement to Gotham Gazette, de Blasio spokesperson Raul Contreras highlighted the work of the Mayor’s Office of Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprises but was noncommittal regarding the CDO proposal that’s in front of the charter revision commission.

A chief diversity officer in New York would undoubtedly cause changes in the procurement spending infrastructure with the Mayor’s Office of M/WBE’s currently overseeing procurement to M/WBE’s. When asked at a March 21 press conference -- one week after the Stringer-led rally and testimony at the charter revision commission -- about the possibility of a CDO in New York City, de Blasio said, “I think the current approach is a very aggressive, effective way. We’ll always look at ways we can improve it, but I think this model is the way to get it done.”

“If you’re chief diversity officer and you don’t report to the head, you’re set up to fail,” said Wendy Garcia. “If you’re reporting directly to the head, you’re part of the system.”

“As long as it doesn’t get overly politicized, we see the power and leverage of a position like this necessarily maintained,” said Julie Nelson, Co-Director of the Government Alliance on Race and Equality (GARE).

An issue the 2019 Charter Revision Commission brought up in its hearing was the already existing framework in the city overseeing M/WBE investment. Commissioner James Caras asked the panelist of experts who testified on the issue if a CDO was really necessary as the duties of the position, diversity hiring and overseeing the M/WBE program, are already handled by the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) and the Mayor's Office of M/WBEs, respectively.

Commissioner Stephen Fiala argued that the specifics of how a CDO would integrate with the current MWBE officers in city agencies are unknown and would only add to a complicated charter and city bureaucratic structure.

“We’re always too quick to come up with a catchy title and then try to ram it into the charter and then we’re left very disappointed when nothing happens.”

A possible downside to the idea of chief diversity officers, said Nelson, is “when individual positions are allocated with the responsibility, that can take the pressure or the weight off other people” when promoting diversity.

Asked about this reservation, Garcia told Gotham Gazette it is the reason the CDO must be in every agency and there must be one CDO who reports directly to the mayor.

If skipped over by the charter revision commission, the creation of a citywide chief diversity officer could be legislated by the New York City Council, however the expert panelists at the revision commission’s hearing were dubious of this path as the charter is less malleable to political changes and pressures.

It’s notable that of the ways the push for a CDO could succeed, like through legislative action or executive order, changing the city’s Charter is the only way that does not directly include the mayor, though he does have four appointees to the 15-member commission. (The City Council could pass a bill then override a mayoral veto. There is no current bill in the Council to create a CDO.)

When the 2019 Charter Revision Commission heard testimony on the proposal of creating a CDO at the March 14 hearing, commissioners appeared interested in the topic. After including the CDO concept in its list of issues to explore further, the commission heard from Stringer and others, among a series of expert hearings it held on a variety of topics, and will now put forward its narrowed focus areas on April 22. That list will determine which issues the commission plans to craft actual ballot proposals around for suggested changes to city government for voters to approve or disapprove in November.

The MWBE program, created by city law in 2005, attempts to increase the amount of city procurement dollars that go to minority- and women-owned businesses. In fiscal year 2018, the city awarded $19.3 billion in contracts, of which $1 billion, or about 5.5%, went to MWBEs, according to Comptroller Stringer’s Making the Grade 2018 report. In 2007, it was just 1.6%.

In the same 2018 report, Stringer gave the city as a whole a D+. Of the 32 mayoral agencies graded, only nine received a B or higher, including the Office of the Comptroller. On spending specifically with African-American-owned businesses, five mayoral agencies received a B or higher.  

To improve, Mayor de Blasio set the goal of awarding $16 billion to MWBEs by 2025 in his OneNYC plan, a goal which has since been increased to $20 billion by 2025.

Amid earlier criticism from Stringer, de Blasio created the Office of MWBEs in September of 2016, which is currently responsible for overseeing the MWBE program. The office, currently led by Jonnel Doris, is part of the mayor’s office and is overseen by the Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives, currently Phil Thompson. The office was created and enhanced under Thompson’s predecessor, Richard Buery.

Talk of a chief diversity officer actually came up in the 2013 New York City mayoral race. At a very early forum in the race -- held in June 2012 when Stringer was exploring a mayoral bid before he shifted to the comptroller’s race -- participating candidates including de Blasio criticized the Bloomberg administration approach to diverse hiring and MWBE contracting. According to news reports the candidates all supported the idea of a CDO at City Hall. “De Blasio also endorsed the idea, but said he would go further, making the person who holds that post a deputy mayor,” according to a Reuters article from the time. That’s what de Blasio has done, in a way.

But the city has failed to hit MWBE procurement benchmarks that were codified by Local Law 1 in 2013. For example, 18% of the value of city construction contracts awarded are supposed to go to women-owned businesses. In 2018, the city awarded just 4.1%, according to the comptroller’s Making the Grade 2018 report.

On the matter of diversity in the mayor's office and city government more broadly, little has changed since de Blasio took office, according to the most recent statistics available from the city. While de Blasio has elevated more women and people of color to top city leadership positions, the larger workforce is about what it was in Mayor Michael Bloomberg's final year of 2013.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of July 2017, New York City as a whole was 52.3% female and 46.7% male, and 32% white, 29% Hispanic, 24% black, 14% Asian, and 1% other races.

According to the city's Department of Citywide Administration Services: in 2013 the mayor's office was: 60% female and 40% male, and 54% white, 17% black, 15% Hispanic, and 14% Asian; in 2017 the mayor's office was: 58% female and 42% male, and 46% white, 20% black, 15% Hispanic, 16% Asian, and 3% some other race.

In 2013 the city government workforce was 58% female and 42% male, and 40% white, 31% black, 19% Hispanic, 8% Asian, and 2% some other race. In 2017 the city government workforce was 59% female and 41% male, and 38% white, 30% black, 20% Hispanic, 9% Asian, and 3% some other race.

Nelson, of the Government Alliance on Race and Equality, told Gotham Gazette the vast resources and dollars of New York City could have a real benefit on policies that would help people of color, if implemented well.

“What we don’t want to have happen is for these positions just to be spokespeople for the status quo,” she said.

by Truman Stephens, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this article.

Note: this article has been corrected to reflect accurate procurement spending with MWBEs by DDC. The original published version of the article inaccruately described DDC as making minimal progress in MWBE contracting in recent years whereas it has increased such spending significantly.

Does New York City Need a Chief Diversity Officer? Sun, 14 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
City Eager to See Cuomo Sign M/WBE Contracting Bill Now on His Desk andrew cuomo 35486744541 357b0411fe z 1

Gov. Cuomo signing (photo: Philip Kamrass/ Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)

A state bill to enhance New York City’s ability to award discretionary contracts to minority- and women-owned businesses (M/WBEs), which was passed by both houses of the state Legislature in June, was delivered to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s desk on December 19.

The bill, which received unanimous support in the state Senate and passed the Assembly with a vote of 115-15, would allow the city to spend up to $150,000 on M/WBE contracts for small projects, without requiring a competitive bidding process that can be costly and time-consuming for applicants, often hindering M/WBEs, which tend to be smaller. Currently, the city is only allowed to give out discretionary contracts worth a maximum of $20,000 to small businesses and M/WBEs, while the state has a threshold of $200,000 for its government contracting.

The legislation also lets the city consider a firm’s status as an M/WBE in “best value procurement,” which involves assessing factors other than the price of a contract bid. For instance, it prioritizes firms with a good history of complying with labor laws and a positive record of worker health and safety.  

“The governor and the state have shown a desire to have a robust M/WBE program,” said Jonnel Doris, director of the Mayor’s Office Of M/WBEs, in a phone interview. “The state has tools in their toolbelt that they’re using to advance the M/WBE program and the city does not have those same tools.”

The governor has 10 days (excluding Sundays) to sign or veto it from when the bill was sent to him -- making for a deadline of midnight on Saturday, December 30. If he does not take any action, the bill automatically becomes law. A spokesperson for the governor’s office said the bill is under review.

The bill would help the city get parity with the state, Doris explained. “We know it’s a transformative bill for us,” he said, noting that the city spent $109 million in fiscal year 2016 on contracts under the $20,000 discretionary threshold. Had the threshold been $150,000, Doris said, the value of contracts in that same period would’ve been $257 million. “That’s a 140 percent increase in opportunities that could’ve gone to M/WBEs, so again, it’s transformative and it’s real, and the M/WBE community has been asking for this change.”

In September 2016, after significant pressure and criticism, Mayor Bill de Blasio committed to increasing the city’s contract awards to M/WBEs to at least 30 percent of all city contract dollars by 2021. Just one month later, Comptroller Scott Stringer provided another in a string of criticisms of the administration on this issue, giving it a “D+” grade on its record with M/WBEs, noting that the city spent only 4.8 percent of it’s $15.3 billion contract budget on M/WBEs.

The administration later pushed back against Stringer’s report, insisting that he should have evaluated the number of contracts awarded to M/WBEs rather than making a comparison with the total contract dollars paid out in a year, which includes payments for contracts awarded by the previous administration. The administration insists that the city is on track to meet its goal in 2021. According to Raul Contreras, a spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office of M/WBEs, the city spent $1 billion with M/WBEs in fiscal year 2017, or about 11.4 percent of city contract dollars awarded in the year ending June 30.

Although the state bill had failed in the state Legislature before, Doris is optimistic that this year’s overwhelming votes will ensure that Cuomo will sign the bill into law.

“The M/WBE program is an economic development program, it’s a jobs program, it’s a community improvement and advancement program,” Doris said. “That’s what it truly is, because when you bring business opportunities to communities, the communities thrive.”

State Senator Marisol Alcantara, a member of the Independent Democratic Conference from Manhattan, sponsored the bill in the Senate. "My team is still in conversation with the Governor's team about the bill, and are urging him to sign it,” said Alcantara, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. Assemblymember Alicia Hyndman, a Queens Democrat, sponsored the companion legislation in the other chamber. “By raising the limit on discretionary contracts from $20,000 to $150,000, the state can give M/WBE's the tools to effectively compete for contracts that were historically denied to them and transform the lives of hundreds of small business owners,” Alcantara said.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

City Eager to See Cuomo Sign M/WBE Contracting Bill Now on His Desk Thu, 21 Dec 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Deputy Mayor Outlines Accountability Measures for MWBE Program Buery de Blasio MWBE

Deputy Mayor Richard Buery, left, & Mayor de Blasio (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)

Since Mayor Bill de Blasio created the Mayor’s Office of Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises last September, Deputy Mayor Richard Buery has been focused on establishing a system of accountability to meet the new targets set by the de Blasio administration for contracting with M/WBE firms and helping those firms to build capacity.

Appearing last week on the “What’s the [Data] Point?” podcast from Gotham Gazette and Citizens Budget Committee, Buery, who is Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives and led the rollout of de Blasio’s signature universal pre-kindergarten program, explained some of what he and his staff are doing to hold city agencies, officials, and contractors responsible for increasing the city contracts awarded to M/WBEs.

A key aspect has been “about changing culture and holding people accountable in a different way,” Buery said, noting that the contracting officers at different city agencies can be stuck in a comfortable pattern of awarding contracts to companies they are familiar with, perpetuating an opportunity imbalance that hurts firms owned by women and people of color. He also described a schedule of meetings somewhat in the mold of the NYPD’s famous CompStat gatherings at which he hears reports from city commissioners and contracting officers and pushes them on meeting targets and making progress.

Last year, de Blasio announced the creation of the new M/WBE office in a self-described “bold new vision” after periods of contentious back and forth with city Comptroller Scott Stringer, who released several reports critical of the administration’s efforts in M/WBE contracting. Setting an ambitious goal of awarding 30% of annual city contract dollars to M/WBEs by 2021, the mayor said that “[w]ith the new Office of M/WBEs and Deputy Mayor Buery’s leadership, we are in a stronger position to continue delivering results for the City’s M/WBEs.”

In fiscal year 2016, that number was 14% -- of the roughly $15 billion in contracts the city awards annually. Buery told podcast hosts Ben Max of Gotham Gazette and Carol Kellermann of CBC that the administration would soon be announcing its fiscal year 2017 numbers. (The city’s fiscal year begins July 1, with fiscal 2018 now into its third month.)

To reach the administration’s new goal, Buery said he has made M/WBEs a persistent topic of conversation in city government. He and his staff hold regular meetings with commissioners, chief contracting officers, and M/BWE officers in each of dozens of city agencies. He also leads a quarterly meeting, he said, during which he addresses citywide trends, celebrates certain agencies, and criticizes others. “If we don’t talk about it regularly, people are not going to look at it and not going to try make changes,” he stated.

In addition to overseeing city agencies, his office drives efforts to hold prime contractors accountable. Citing the saying, “If it’s not measured it can’t be managed,” he explained that the city requires general contractors to do business with a stated percentage of M/WBEs if hired, as part of the process of releasing a request for proposals and awarding contracts to bidders. While contractors may have valid reasons for missing M/WBE targets, Buery said, there needs to be a conversation to ensure they expended every effort in their attempts.

On the podcast, Buery also stressed that the city is on “a good trajectory,” citing an increase from an 8% inclusion rate when the administration first came into office to the most recent reported figure of 14% in fiscal year 2016.

The more aggressive stance, including the new office and the addition of Buery’s leadership came in response to consistent criticism on M/WBE contracting.

In 2015, Bertha Lewis, founder of the Black Institute and a one-time de Blasio supporter, called the administration “incompetent and immoral” for not awarding more contracts to M/WBEs. From 2014 onwards, Stringer released critical reports and argued that de Blasio’s investment in M/WBEs was, what he termed in an interview with WNYC, “a disgrace.”

Buery’s response has been unfailingly upbeat. “We are well on our way to awarding 30% of the value of our contracts to this important community of businesses,” he said to the New York Daily News in response to Stringer’s 2016 criticisms.

There is additional reason for optimism courtesy of recent developments at the state level that the city sought. The state legislature overwhelmingly voted to grant New York City increased discretion in its M/WBE policy in June. Among multiple measures, the bill allows the city a higher threshold in contract amounts it can award to M/WBEs without going through a full, competitive bidding process. Although the administration is waiting for Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign the bill, Buery said on the podcast he is sure the governor will sign it and that he and his staff are “already figuring out how to implement it.”

Giving a wider frame, Buery said he sees his efforts overseeing the Mayor’s Office of M/WBEs as part of the administration’s greater quest to “create a city that works for everyone.”

“Because the city is such a big buyer of things, part of our power is an engine of economic opportunity by making sure that we give everybody a chance to be a part of doing business with the city,” Buery said, “by giving everyone a chance to share their expertise, their knowledge, their know-how.”

Listen to the full podcast conversation: What’s The [Data] Point? 30% with Deputy Mayor Richard Buery

by Ben Weiss, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Deputy Mayor Outlines Accountability Measures for MWBE Program Mon, 04 Sep 2017 04:00:00 +0000
What's The [DATA] Point? 30% with Deputy Mayor Richard Buery whats the data point

What's The Data Point? Episode 10 -- 30% with Deputy Mayor Richard Buery [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

This week's data point is 30% -- the share, based on dollar value, of city contracts to be awarded to minority- and women-owned businesses by fiscal year 2021, according to a goal set by Mayor Bill de Blasio in September 2016. This would be an increase from 14 percent in fiscal year 2016. New York City Deputy Mayor Richard Buery joins the podcast to discuss the efforts he is leading and overseeing in order to meet that goal.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Carol Kellerman of CBC (@cbcny), and special guest Deputy Mayor Richard Buery (@RichardBuery). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

What's The [DATA] Point? 30% with Deputy Mayor Richard Buery Thu, 31 Aug 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Don’t Make It Harder for Minority-Owned Businesses in the Construction Industry 33578505675 8cb9ce38ed z

Street redesign project in Brooklyn (photo:Ed Reed/Mayor's Office Flickr)

After decades of work overcoming discrimination in the construction industry, minority- and women-owned businesses (M/WBEs) know that it is still very difficult for them to get a fair shake of opportunities. There is plenty of progress left to be made for black and brown contractors in a field historically dominated by white males. But the City Council is moving ahead with legislation that would turn back the clock on New York’s construction industry and send us back to a time when M/WBEs had virtually no shot at winning contracts. The bill, known as Intro. 1447, pushes a false argument about safety while creating impediments and threatening to undermine hardworking black and brown contractors across our city.

As someone who has spent most of his career working with small, emerging M/WBE contractors to help them access new opportunities, I am shocked and disappointed that our City Council members are not even addressing this issue. They need to hold off on Intro. 1447 and rewrite the bill to ensure it does not have an adverse effect on M/WBEs.

My experience in this field comes from developing programs that bring locally based, minority-owned contractors on to major construction projects – and many of these projects are hoping to meet or exceed specific M/WBE contracting goals. It is clear that the vast majority of M/WBE contractors find it so difficult to enter the industry because they are much smaller than their competitors and do not have the financial resources to cover the required up-front insurance and bonding costs.

One of the main strategies we have employed to help small businesses is to match them with larger contractors so they can at least do a portion of the work. For example, if an M/WBE does not have the financial resources to cover the costs of working on a 20-story residential tower, we can help them get a contract to do work for several floors of the project.

I have seen firsthand that when we afford M/WBE contractors opportunities, they have a very high rate of success and growth. These small business owners take safety and quality seriously, and they show us that they deserve a fair and level playing field.

However, Intro. 1447 would permanently damage M/WBE participation in the construction industry by fundamentally and unfairly changing the rules of the game. The bill would raise the barrier to entry with an arbitrary 59-hour training requirement – nearly six times the current standard – even though much of that proposed training would have nothing to do with safety.

Given what we already know, the results of passing a bill like this are easy to predict. Costs will skyrocket and small M/WBE contractors will no longer be able to afford to work on small parts of a project, let alone the whole thing. When they run out of work opportunities, these M/WBE contractors might just go out of business. Once again, virtually every single construction project in New York City will be overseen entirely by white men.

It does not have to be like this. If the City Council is willing to address the mistakes in this bill and do the right thing, there is no reason why they cannot put together legislation that increases safety while also protecting black and brown business owners. That must happen now.

Rohan DeFreitas is president of Crescent Consulting, a firm that connects M/WBEs with contracting opportunities in the construction industry.

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Don’t Make It Harder for Minority-Owned Businesses in the Construction Industry Mon, 07 Aug 2017 20:28:37 +0000
Leveling the Playing Field for Minority- & Women-Owned Businesses Marisol Alcantara and BdB

Sen. Alcantara, the author, & Mayor de Blasio (NY State Senate Photography)

In April, New York City certified its 5,000th Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprise (M/WBE). Its proud owner is Miguel Cabrera, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic who came to the U.S. in 2009 and owns a transportation business.

When I met Miguel earlier this month in Albany, we talked about immigrant life in the United States. He told me that he became City-certified so that he could reinvest in his local community in the Bronx.

He embodies the spirit of New York City. It is a place that empowers people from different backgrounds to display their entrepreneurial spirit and turn their American Dream into a reality.

There are countless business owners like Miguel who need the support of the City to overcome historical barriers to accessible capital and contracting opportunities. In order to address the impact that discrimination has had on the marketplace for City contracts, Mayor de Blasio has made an aggressive commitment to help foster success among the city’s M/WBEs, including establishing a goal of certifying 9,000 firms by 2019; awarding $16 billion in contracts to M/WBEs by 2025; awarding 30 percent of the value of City contracts to M/WBEs by 2021; and creating loan programs such as the Contract Financing Loan Fund, which give M/WBEs access to loans of up to $500,000 at a low 3 percent interest.

This renewed focus on M/WBEs has led to slight but significant increases in the number of M/WBEs that do business with the City. In Fiscal Year 2015, the City had an 8 percent rate of M/WBE participation among firms that did business with the City. That number rose to 14 percent in FY 2016 and then 19 percent in the first two quarters of FY 2017.

To continue seeing progress, the State must step up and give the City additional tools to address the historic effects of discrimination in the marketplace and spur growth among M/WBEs, which make up more than 50 percent of New York City businesses.

A bill I introduced earlier this month, S.6513, would do just that.

Currently, City agencies have discretionary spending authority that allows them to spend $20,000 to $35,000 without a formal competitive process. The State’s threshold, however, is up to $200,000 and it’s time we allow the City similar flexibility, a move the de Blasio administration fully supports.

I often hear from constituents that the time associated with a formal competition can discourage M/WBEs, which are mostly small businesses, from going through a lengthy procurement process for projects that are small and offer only a slight profit margin. The loss of time and resources M/WBEs shoulder during the competitive process can hinder their growth. This is compounded by the fact that this is a subset of small businesses that have historically been at a competitive disadvantage. To address this problem, my bill will significantly raise the City’s threshold for discretionary spending to be more in line with the State’s.

This provision would help the City make swifter progress in addressing the historical and current impact of discrimination, and would help M/WBEs build capacity and the experience needed to successfully bid and perform on City projects.

To my colleagues in the Senate: small businesses are the backbone of any successful economy. They hire locally and reinvest in their communities. All of our local communities and businesses should have the opportunity to flourish. Please join me in giving the City and its M/WBEs these much needed tools.

Marisol Alcantara is a state Senator whose district includes Washington Heights, Inwood, and the Upper West Side. On Twitter @NY31Alcantara.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email

Leveling the Playing Field for Minority- & Women-Owned Businesses Sun, 18 Jun 2017 04:00:00 +0000