Comptroller Says City Has to ‘Do a Lot of Work’ to Help Minority and Women Firms

Comptroller Stringer addresses minority- and women-owned business leaders at a roundtable at Chéri Harlem.

Comptroller Stringer addresses minority- and women-owned business leaders at a roundtable at Chéri Harlem. Madina Toure/Observer

Convening nearly two dozen minority- and women-owned business leaders in Harlem this morning, Comptroller Scott Stringer—Mayor Bill de Blasio’s most outspoken rival in city government—to reiterate his commitment to the issue over which he has frequently critiqued the mayor.

Stringer, rumored to be weighing a challenge to de Blasio in next September’s Democratic primary, blasted the city’s performance on giving out contracts to MWBEs at an Association for a Better New York breakfast and the mayor rolling out a new 30 percent MWBE participation goal in September to be met by 2021. Stringer noted today that in his annual MWBE report card in October, he gave the the city a D+ on spending with MWBEs for the second year in a row—noting it spent $15.3 billion on goods and services but less than five percent went to MWBEs.

But he took a somewhat more diplomatic approach addressing the group today.

“I tell you this because I’m not here to blame agencies,” Stringer told the leaders at Chéri Harlem. “I’m not here to criticize people. I’m here to tell you that we collectively have got do a lot of work if we’re going to do something that we never really talk about anymore which is not just creating job opportunities in low wage industries, but how do we create wealth in communities?”

He said his own office received a C the first two years and then a B in the most recent report card—an indication that it takes “hard work” to incorporate people who have been “shut out for so long in finance and other places.”

He also said he and the New York City pension funds launched a boardroom accountability project in November 2014, a campaign that gives shareowners the right to nominate directors at American companies using the corporate ballot, also known as “proxy access.” Such a right enables boards to be composed of diverse, independent and accountable directors, according to Stringer, who also said that diversity on corporate boards means that “the returns to the pension fund do better.”

“If you have a board that’s too male, too pale—and I hate to say this—and a little too stale,” Stringer said, garnering laughter from the attendees. “I said it, I put it out there. You have what’s called groupthink, right?”

One of the attendees said “Or too orange,” prompting the Democratic pol to crack “Okay, we’re not going there. Keep it in the lane,” as attendees chuckled.

Wendy Garcia, whom Stringer recently appointed as full-time chief diversity officer, was also in attendance. Among the leaders’ chief concerns were an excessive emphasis on the construction field compared to other industries, companies promising to do business with MWBEs but subsequently making it impossible for them to compete and not getting paid on time for their work.

In September, de Blasio also announced the appointment of Deputy Mayor of Strategic Initiatives Richard Buery as the city’s new MWBE director. Rev. Jonnel Doris is the city’s senior MWBE adviser.

The mayor 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. Buery has said that last year, the de Blasio administration awarded $697 million in contracts to MWBEs—a 52 percent increase in dollars from the previous year—and that contracts went to MWBEs 14 percent of the time, up from 8 percent the prior year.

Rodney Evans, president and CEO of Skyline Connections Inc., said that he wants to meet with Doris to discuss his pilot project with the Department of Citywide Administrative Services—his company built software for the MTA to track its MWBE spending. He said the state is doing “really fantastic” and that the city is doing “terribly.”

“We track billions of dollars around the country for minority- and women-owned companies,” Evans said. “So that’s what we’re looking to do here. New York is just a little hard opening up except for MTA. Besides the MTA—which is  a state authority—it’s really hard getting business in this New York City agency.”

Quenia Abreu, president and CEO of the New York Women’s Chamber of Commerce, echoed a concern of de Blasio’s and Brooklyn Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte, who introduced legislation that would raise the cap on city discretionary funding up to $200,000. Abreu said small purchases “are not advertised anywhere.”

“The state has it at 200,000 while ours is less than 20, up to 20…for construction not just general,” Abreu said. “So when you look at that, if you look at the numbers, but when you look at the majority of our MWBEs really fall, they fall in that category.”

Tuesday Brooks, principal accountant at AJOY Management Enterprise, applauded the city and the state for increasing their MWBE participation goals but said they won’t hit their benchmarks until they make sure the businesses are actually handling sizable amounts of money and staff.

“I think they’re doing great in terms of increasing the utilization numbers but that means nothing,” Brooks said. “They’re just, they’re spending money to increase certification but we can’t, those who are certified are not being utilized because we just can’t be because we’re too small—in other words, we’re too small.”

At an MWBE open house hosted by the mayor’s Office of Minority- and Women-Owned Businesses and Enterprises and the Department of Small Business Services at Lehman College in the Bronx this afternoon, Doris told the Observer that SBS has one of the best programs in the state, noting that 65 percent or so of MWBEs who take part in their services end up with contracts.

And he said the city is giving the agency additional resources, also touting an upcoming SBS program that will allow certified MWBEs and other small businesses that are not eligible for funding somewhere else to borrow up to $500,000 at a maximum interest rate of 3 percent.

“We know a need is there ’cause you just can’t say increasing goals and not also increase the capacity,” he said. “They’re doing a great job. We know a need is there ’cause you just can’t say increasing goals and not also increase the capacity.”

He also noted that the city follows Local Law 1—the law governing the city’s MWBE program—and that it is currently at 14 percent participation.

“We set a goal of 30 percent for that program so we’re almost halfway there,” he added. “So, you know, I will speak to those sort of metrics, which I believe are the right metrics.”

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

This story has been updated to include a comment from Rev. Jonnel Doris, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s senior MWBE adviser. 

Comptroller Says City Has to ‘Do a Lot of Work’ to Help Minority and Women Firms