Blacks in Short Supply In Mayor’s Inner Circle

Late last month, with the city thrown into chaos by the transit strike, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and a dozen of his top deputies stood together in the blue room of City Hall to send a reassuring message to New Yorkers in their hour of need.

But in that anxious moment, with identity politics the furthest thing from anyone’s mind, the Mayor and his top officials unintentionally presented something else to the city: a solid row of white faces that did not reflect the people they were vowing to serve.

Since then, Mr. Bloomberg has expanded his cabinet with four new deputy mayors elevated from his inner circle: Linda Gibbs, Patricia E. Harris, Kevin Sheekey and Edward Skyler. All of them are white. Of the seven deputies who will serve in the second term, only Dennis M. Walcott, the deputy mayor for policy, is black, and insiders say the more recent appointments have diminished his influence.

Some critics say the blanching of Bloomberg’s top brass undermines the inclusive, multicultural and multiracial vibe of his campaign. After all, the hold music on the campaign headquarters telephone was salsa, the flyers were translated into a slew of foreign languages, and the galas looked like multiracial mixers. All of that sent the message that there was plenty of room inside the Bloomberg juggernaut. Minorities responded resoundingly, handing Mr. Bloomberg a landslide victory in which he won 47 percent of the black vote, a remarkably high figure for a Republican.

Now some black leaders say they feel slighted that the campaign rhetoric hasn’t translated to key appointments in the second term.

“Four new deputy mayors and not one of color,” said former Manhattan Borough President and unsuccessful Mayoral candidate C. Virginia Fields. “He has not expanded the influence of blacks in his administration. I’m dismayed and I’m disappointed.”

Ms. Fields may be disappointed, but Mr. Bloomberg has caught little heat for the pallor of his inner circle. That contrasts with the outcry heard when Rudolph Giuliani was accused of whitewashing city government by eliminating 4,632 blacks from the payroll while hiring 387 whites in his first two years in office.

City government under Mr. Bloomberg still looks a lot more like it did under his predecessor than it did under Mayor David Dinkins, the city’s first African-American Mayor, especially in the most high-profile spots. That said, the number of minorities in decision-making positions has increased under Mr. Bloomberg, according to a comparison of statistics from the 2001 Equal Employment Practices Commission report and the most recent 2004 report, which was sent to the Mayor on Jan. 20.

In the category of administrators, which includes elected officials, commissioners and other high-ranking officials who set broad policies, there was a 3 percent increase in the number of blacks holding those positions and a 2 percent dip in the number of whites.

But in a study last year, the New York chapter of the group Blacks in Government argued that in most city agencies, minorities made up about 57 percent of the city’s workforce but only 19 percent of its executive staff. Meanwhile, whites made up only 41 percent of the workforce but 79 percent of the senior jobs. A subsequent City Council study demonstrated that a disparity of contracts awarded by the city went to white males.

These statistics inspired little more than a shrug.

“The key is whether or not people are demanding diversity,” said Walter Stafford, a professor of urban planning and public policy at New York University. “Before there would have been a great outcry. I don’t think it happened this time. There is a shift going on. I don’t think it’s the rhetoric of the black community now to talk about affirmative action in city government.”

Professor Stafford suggested that the fading of a generation of activists that came of age during the civil-rights movement contributes to the general silence, but the largest factor is the difference in style between Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Giuliani.

Mr. Giuliani’s brash and confrontational manner made it abundantly clear that racial patronage had no place in City Hall. Any question of racial sensitivity was brushed off as governing by quotas, resulting in the alienation and resentment of much of the black leadership. Mr. Bloomberg brought with him a dramatic change in tone, and his strictly business image made his colorblind policy seem more plausible.

“One of the things this Mayor has done is appoint people in nontraditional roles,” said Department of Finance Commissioner Martha Stark, one of the administration’s few black commissioners. “I don’t think the Mayor considered that I was the first African-American woman to hold this post. It wasn’t what he was focused on. He was focused on the best person for the job.”

But it helps that the Mayor has been spared any major racial incident since taking over the city in 2002, which many black leaders cited as an essential ingredient to the easing of racial tensions. Mr. Bloomberg has reached out to black leaders like Al Sharpton, who was ostracized by Mr. Giuliani. With a burst of economic development going on uptown and in the boroughs, and with Mr. Bloomberg’s promised return to philanthropy after his term expires hanging over many a needy group’s head, few want to risk raising the Mayor’s ire.

For the Rev. Dr. Calvin O. Butts III of Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church, who endorsed the Mayor for re-election, the lack of diversity comes into play only when it prevents access.

“If I had a lily-white administration and I could not get a phone call through, then I would say, ‘God, if I had someone black in a position like that I would have more of a chance,’” he said. “But I call [Deputy Mayor for Economic Development and Building] Dan Doctoroff and, boom, he’s right back. The moment I can’t, I will scream bloody murder. That, I think, is what counts.”

Yet for some black leaders, presentation counts too.

On Jan. 19, a Thursday morning, Mr. Bloomberg toured a FoodChange storefront in Harlem where he spoke to workers under a sign reading “What Color Is Your Future?” and promoted a tax credit for New Yorkers having trouble making ends meet. Standing behind him were black City Council members Leroy Comrie and Inez Dickens, both of whom nevertheless expressed concern about the Mayor’s commitment to diversity.

“He has brought a lot of people with him from Bloomberg LP,” said Mr. Comrie, the City Council Majority Whip, referring to Ms. Harris, Mr. Sheekey and Mr. Skyler, all of whom worked in Mr. Bloomberg’s private company. “I understand that he trusts these people, but in a diverse city, more diversity would be beneficial to everyone and a motivating factor for young people looking up to him.”

“Each of us has an inner circle,” added Ms. Dickens. “But if you are in a position of the Mayor you need to be more diverse. I was hoping this administration would reflect the campaign and it didn’t.”

But critics during the campaign who are trying to get back in the Mayor’s good graces refused to broach the subject of diversity.

“I think that the Mayor is a person who reaches out to all sections of society,” said Dennis Rivera, the president of 1199 United Healthcare Workers East, who also stood behind the Mayor up in Harlem. “He was gracious enough to invite us and work with us. We are looking to strengthen our friendship.”

Later that Thursday, Mr. Bloomberg seemed to be once again on the campaign trail as he entered a ballroom at the Sheraton Hotel where the Black Agency Executives held their annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. luncheon. Addressing the crowd, the Mayor called attention to the apple-shaped pin striped with equal signs that he wears on his lapel.

“I think that says everything I think about New York,” said Mr. Bloomberg, adding, “I think Dr. King would be happy about the progress we have made in New York, where our city has been united as never before. Yet unhappily, as Dr. King would recognize, there is a lot more work to do.”

Racial Containers?

Brandan Ward, president of the 300 members of the New York chapter of Blacks in Government, couldn’t agree more.

In his office at the Department of Transportation, where he is a project manager, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan looked out from his computer screen.

“It doesn’t become a problem unless something tragic comes up or it’s Martin Luther King month,” said Mr. Ward. “They have to have the guys who come out and contain the messes—racial containers. At one of our monthly meetings in May or June, Walcott said that term two is going to be different. He came across like an errand boy.”

“These scurrilous accusations about the deputy mayor responsible for the education of our city’s children do not deserve the dignity of a response,” said Jordan Barowitz, a spokesman for Mr. Bloomberg.

Yet even Ms. Stark, who is admired both by Mr. Ward and the administration, recognized the importance of diversity in high places. She said she left her high-paying job in the private sector when Mr. Dinkins was elected because “I thought, ‘Wow, the first African-American Mayor, I’d love to give back to the city.’” She noticed a similar effect in her own commission, where people of color felt encouraged because they saw her at the top, but ultimately agreed with the Mayor’s approach. “Fundamentally, it is always about getting a person who can do this job.”