Protest Hits Cuomo Over Lack of Female and Minority Appointments

A coalition of African-American, Hispanic and Asian business and religious leaders rallied outside of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Manhattan office. Madina Toure/Observer

Asian, African-American and Hispanic business and religious leaders demonstrated outside Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Manhattan office this afternoon to pressure the Democrat to diversify the leadership of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Jacob Javits Center board of directors and other state entities under the control of the executive branch.

They noted that the Port Authority has 10 white commissioners, that only two out of 22 MTA board members are people of color, and that all 17 members of the Jacob Javits Commission are Caucasian. The group acknowledged the nominations of Secretary of State Rossana Rosado, and Leecia Eve, Verizon’s Vice President of State Government Affairs for New York, to the Port Authority, but  demanded the governor to nominate people of color who have a history of working on issues specific to minority and female business owners to the MTA, Jacob Javits and other boards.

“We have our Chinese brothers and sisters here, we have our Latino brothers and sisters here, we have our African-American brothers and sisters here, we have Native American brothers and sisters here,” said Rev. Dr. Carl Washington, senior pastor of New Mount Zion Baptist Church in Harlem. “We are bridging the gap. What we’re asking our governor to do is to start to bridge gaps. There are too many gaps in our state that need to be bridged and we want you, Mr. Governor, just to bridge the gap.”

Washington claimed that the governor only comes to minority communities when looking for votes, and then “you dismiss us after you are elected.”

“Thirty percent, 30 percent, but we only got two percent,” he continued. “We’re just asking for our other 28 percent. With the other 28 percent, we can move into the communities that are now—we’re being gentrified out of.”

Jeff Liu, president of Chinese Chamber of Commerce, told the Observer that the Asian community has made substantial contributions to the local economy.

“Asian Americans, especially the Chinese community, never get any contracts from the government,” Liu said.

Leaders also called for the termination of Alphonso David, the governor’s counsel, and MTA Chief Diversity Officer Michael Garner.

The governor’s office told the Observer that the MTA’s utilization of so-called “minority and women-owned business enterprises” has increased by more than 60 percent during his time in office, resulting in more than $1 billion in contracts awarded to MWBEs over the past seven years—with more than $300 million in fiscal year 2015-2016 alone. The data does not include, the office said, the MTA’s additional spending with MWBEs under the Federal Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program, which applies to projects such as the Second Avenue Subway.

They said Javits’ MWBE utilization more than tripled since 2011, resulting in about $13 million in MWBE utilization, and that from 2012 through 2016, the Port Authority awarded more than $2.2 billion in contracts to MWBEs despite not being subject to Article 15-A of the executive law, signed into law in July 1988 to approve the creation of the Office—now Division—of Minority and Women’s Business Development.

Since 2011, Cuomo appointed or nominated four minority group members and two non-minority women to the boards, they said.

Dani Lever, a spokeswoman for Cuomo, blasted calls for David to be fired as “dumb”—and reiterated the state’s progress in granting more contracts to MWBEs.

“They are wrong on the numbers, wrong on the facts and their mind-numbingly dumb personal attacks would be insulting if they even had an ounce of accuracy,” Dani Lever, a spokeswoman for Cuomo, said in an emailed statement. “By any measure, New York under this administration is leading the way on diversity in contracting by raising MWBE participation from 9 percent to 25 percent of state contracts over the last seven years. Whatever this ‘coalition’s’ motives are, the truth is certainly not one of them.”

In 2014, Cuomo increased the state’s MWBE participation goal from 10 percent of all state contracts in 2011 to 30 percent. Though some MWBEs and advocates have claimed that the state is reaching its goals faster than the city, some have said that the city has been more transparent about the manner in which its goals are being carried out.

Alphonso David, the governor’s counsel who also oversees the state’s MWBE program, has noted that the Empire State Development Corporation, which oversees the MWBE program, publishes a yearly report for each fiscal year. He also said that State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli audits state agencies on MWBEs and that the state has given information about different minority groups and has hosted outreach events throughout the state.

The coalition that gathered outside the governor’s office today also called on him to make sure that the MTA and Port Authority allocate 30 percent of all contracts for the planned Long Island Rail Road expansion, the Newark Airport Terminal A redevelopment and the conversion of the Farley Post Office into the Moynihan Train Hall. And they requested that Cuomo eliminate waivers that allow mainstream companies to bypass partnering with minority and women-owned firms on state projects.

Rev. Dr. Johnnie Green, president and CEO of Mobilizing Preachers and Communities, said they are giving Cuomo until the end of the month to meet their demands—or else they plan to lead a protest that will shut down LaGuardia Airport on July 3. He also said he was not satisfied with the work of David and Garner.

“We are prepared to go as far as being jailed because where there is no justice, there will be no peace,” Green said.

Frank Garcia, chairman of the New York State Coalition of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, echoed those sentiments.

“We’re making sure that we all can sit down with the governor in the room,” Garcia said.

This story has been updated to clarify that Lever, who reached out after this article’s publication, intended to direct her use of the word “dumb” solely toward calls for David’s termination.