Just six days after City Comptroller Scott Stringer blasted what he called the city’s abysmal record of giving contracts to minority- and women-owned businesses, Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled a new 30 percent MWBE participation goal to be met by 2021 and the appointment of Deputy Mayor of Strategic Initiatives Richard Buery as the city’s new MWBE director.
The goal seeks for the city to award at least 30 percent of the dollar amount of city contracts to MWBEs by 2021, which would include prime and subcontracts with mayoral and certain non-mayoral agencies. The mayor said that in fiscal year 2016, MWBEs were awarded 14 percent of all contract dollars—nearly double the amount awarded the previous fiscal year, which was 8 percent.
Buery—who implemented de Blasio’s Pre-K for All initiative—will be assisted by Rev. Jonnel Doris, the city’s senior MWBE adviser. The two will formulate policies and submit recommendations to increase contracting opportunities.
De Blasio hit back hard at Stringer’s scathing assessment of the city’s MWBE program (he said at the Association for a Better New York breakfast that only 5.3 percent of $14 billion the city spent on goods and services went to MWBEs), saying the MWBE shakeup announced today has been in the works for “a long, long time” and that the city has seen “higher levels of contracting than any time in the history of New York City.”
“Those predate anybody’s press conference or report,” de Blasio said. “Those statements he made were misleading, not looking at the totality of what we’re doing…oversight’s great but people should be careful not to just to want to criticize or find numbers that support a critique if they’re honestly trying to figure out what’s working and what’s not working.”
The new goal, he said, is meant to address that more works needs to be done.
“Like a lot of other things we’ve done, we made sure that when we’re ready to come out with a goal that we really believe we could live with it and achieve it and it wasn’t just talk,” de Blasio continued.
In an emailed statement, Comptroller Scott Stringer commended the mayor for announcing renewed efforts to assist MWBEs but said “the devil is in the details.”
“After years of poorly implemented plans, New Yorkers deserve specifics,” Stringer said. “As the administration fleshes out their strategy, my office will continue to push agencies to increase their MWBE spending.”
The mayor has set a goal of awarding $16 billion in contracts to MWBEs by 2025 and to double the number of certified and re-certified MWBEs at SBS from 4,500 to 9,000 by 2019.
The announcement may sound familiar—in 2014, the governor set a 30 percent goal after he said the state exceeded a 20 percent goal set in 2011 and his counsel oversees the state’s MWBE program. De Blasio said he appreciates that the state has “had high goals and the tools to achieve them”—but he feels the city needs access to those tools, too. To that end, he’s looking for a change in state law that would allow the city, like the state, to award contracts to MWBEs even if they are not proposed the least expensive qualified bid.
“We think that’s, certainly I think that’s great for the city of New York and the state of New York,” de Blasio said. “But we want the tools to do that, too. And so it always stands to reason that the state should join us in allowing us to go farther.”
“The state proposed a goal of 30% in October of 2015 and are on track to meet it,” Cuomo spokeswoman Dani Lever said. “We are glad the city has now decided to also make this a priority and we are happy to review any proposal or legislation.”
Legislation introduced at the state level has stalled in the Republican-dominated State Senate, but de Blasio dismissed the notion that it had anything to do with the well-documented ire State Senate Republicans have for him. He said it was strictly an “ideological matter.”
“Without acting like an expert on this debate—there are others here who know more about the back and forth in Albany, obviously—I think it’s safe to say that the Republican State Senate has not been overly friendly to empowerment efforts, efforts to address greater equality for minority- and women-owned businesses,” he said.
Brooklyn Assemblyman Rodneyse Bichotte, who chairs the Oversight of Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprises Subcommittee, said the problem—which she said is rooted in racism—”definitely predates Mayor de Blasio.” She said her class has introduced more than 50 MWBE bills and “maybe one or two were even allowed to be introduced to the floor of the Senate.”
“I mean it’s just simple,” Bichotte said, yelling “Amen!” when de Blasio called out Republicans in the State Senate. “I mean, there’s still a level of racism and injustices and just a view of, helping minority- and women-owned business enterprises to some is like a handout. So it’s a continuous battle.”
Advocates such as Bertha Lewis of the Black Institute—his one-time ally who has become a relentless critic—had complained that former counsel Maya Wiley, who was also MWBE director, wore too many hats. Lewis has said she believes Doris does not have any power as an adviser and has reiterated calls for the appointment of a full-time chief diversity officer with deputy mayor status.
When the Observer asked the mayor whether Buery would deal exclusively with the MWBE program, he said Buery “has a lot of things he has to do, too” but that he’s “very comfortable with this construct.” He said he has always advocated for more leadership on the MWBE issue.
“We need a leader in the administration who has the reach across the administration and has the constant connection to me so that we can order what we need to order and it’s something we’re talking about on a constant basis,” de Blasio said. “And we did that when Maya was my counsel. We’re going to do that obviously with Richard as one of our deputy mayors.”
This story has been updated with comment from Cuomo’s office.