The man Mayor Bill de Blasio put in charge of boosting the percentage of city contracts going to minority- and women-owned business enterprises says he’s drawing on the skills he learned for his last big task—rolling out the city’s universal prekindergarten program.
In September, Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled a plan to award 30 percent of city contracts to MWBEs by 2021, and made Deputy Mayor of Strategic Initiatives Richard Buery the city’s new MWBE director. Two years before, Buery had earned plaudits from most observers (though not all) for coordinating with private and nonprofit providers to make the mayor’s flagship campaign promise a reality: making full-day education services available for four-year-olds across New York City.
The jobs aren’t so different, Buery told the Observer yesterday.
“I think the one thing that the MWBE initiative has in common with pre-K and, frankly, with a number of initiatives in the city, IDNYC, other similarly big initiatives is the fact that it’s an interagency, multidisciplinary initiative,” Buery told the Observer following the city’s launch of the NYC Child Savings Account to help kids save for college in Queens. “That in order to have greater success in bringing business opportunities to minority- and women-owned businesses, you actually have to get a number of different parcels of the city working together and working differently.”
According to the mayor, in fiscal year 2016, MWBEs were awarded 14 percent of all contract dollars—almost double the amount awarded the previous fiscal year, which was 8 percent. De Blasio 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.
Buery said that the MWBE program requires the involvement of agencies such as the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services and the Department of Small Business Services. While the city Department of Education was at the center of the universal pre-K initiative, he said, other agencies such as the Administration for Children’s Services, the Department of Buildings, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the School Construction Authority played a role, too.
He acknowledged the top-heavy nature of New York City government, and said in order to get things done, “you have to be hard to push things through.”
“We have a huge bureaucracy that is full of really talented people and really talented public servants,” Buery continued. “If you give them space and opportunity to work together and accomplish great things, you know, we can get 70,000 kids in pre-K and we can get all these kindergartners college savings accounts and we can get more and more…30 percent utilization rate for minority- and women-owned businesses. So we think it’s actually, the basic ideas come together.”
SBS recently launched the application process for a mentorship program that connects MWBEs in certain fields with established entrepreneurs. Last month, the agency announced that starting sometime between January and February, MWBEs will be able to borrow up to $500,000 from the city at an interest rate no higher than 3 percent if they are not eligible for funding from other sources.
SBS also has an eight-month NYC Construction Mentorship program specifically for city-certified MWBE—or eligible to be certified as such—construction or trade firms looking to sell to New York City.
And in November, HPD announced that effective January 1, affordable housing developers have to commit at least 25 percent of costs supported by HPD to certified MWBEs.
Buery said that the city is continuing to develop and explore new initiatives and is looking at practices undertaken around the state and the country to see how they can benefit the city. He also said the city is exploring legal changes from the state “to help make sure we can do some of the things we want to do.”
But he pointed out that while the city “obviously has a long way to go,” it has “come a long way.” And in response to calls from advocates for a full-time chief diversity officer, Buery argued the current structure—him serving as MWBE director, Rev. Jonnel Doris serving as the city’s senior MWBE adviser and an MWBE office—is “the best way for us to do it given our culture.” He said they invite people to “judge us on our progress.”
“We are on a strong pathway,” he said. “I think ultimately the answer to the question is, will be our results. Are we continuing to make good progress? Are we continuing to get the changes in the program that we need to accomplish this?”
The mayor and Comptroller Scott Stringer have clashed over the city’s MWBE program. In Stringer’s annual MWBE report card in October, the city got a D+ on spending with MWBEs for the second year in a row. Stringer said that the city spent $15.3 billion on goods and services but only 4.8 percent went to MWBEs—a drop from his report the previous year that found that only 5.3 percent of $14 billion was granted to MWBEs. At the time, Buery called the comptroller’s findings into question.