De Blasio’s goal of 30 percent contract awards to minorities and women may hit stumbling block in Albany
Brooklyn officials back the plan
Flanked by minority and women business owners, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Wednesday an ambitious plan to award 30 percent of the dollar amount of city contracts to minority- and women-owned business enterprises (M/WBEs) by 2021.
De Blasio said, “We have a simple vision to distribute opportunity fair and wide – to open the door wide for everyone who is ready to do this important work, to break down the barriers, to create fairness.”
M/WBEs were awarded eight percent of all contract dollars in fiscal year ’15, and 14 percent in FY ’16, a number de Blasio said was greater than any achieved by his predecessors.
De Blasio was criticized by city Comptroller Scott Stringer recently when an audit performed by his office found only 5.3 percent of the money spent by the city on goods and services in 2015 went to M/WBEs. The mayor’s office found that low number to be “misleading,” according to PIX11.
To help achieve his goal of 30 percent, the mayor has appointed a new director for the city’s M/WBE program — Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives Richard Buery — and is creating a Mayor’s Office of M/WBEs to coordinate with other city agencies.
The city also plans to increase funding for certain programs, provide free services to city-certified M/WBEs (such as teaming, mentorship and technical assistance) and supply more resources to city agencies. Certified M/WBEs and small businesses will also be able to apply for loans of up to $500,000.
On Wednesday, the mayor held public hearings and signed six pieces of legislation aimed at increasing accountability and access for women and minorities. These bills were backed by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Councilmembers Robert Cornegy, Laurie Cumbo, Elisabeth Crawley and Helen Rosenthal, and Public Advocate Letitia James.
And now the caveats
The mayor cautioned, however, that there are “impediments” in state law that “deny the city some of the tools and flexibility it needs to maximize M/WBE participation.”
He called for the passage of a new state law to give the city “the tools it needs to bring opportunities to more M/WBEs.” He add that that those changes would be “critical to New York City’s ability to achieve its ambitious targets.”
Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2014 also set a 30 percent M/WBE goal. In response to a question from a reporter, de Blasio said, “We’re thrilled that they have a high goal … I certainly think that is great for the city of New York and the state of New York. But we want the tools to do that too.”
He added, “You know, we’re talking about the Department of Education, our single biggest agency; SCA, EDC and all the other mayoral agencies, which combine to do a huge amount of contracting. The state does a lot of important things for sure, but the city has a vast contracting ability that needs to be in this game and needs to have the tools to reach a lot farther.”
When pushed about the level of difficulty expected from Albany, the mayor said, “I think it is safe to say that the Republican State Senate had not been overly friendly to empowerment efforts and efforts to address greater equality for minority and women owned businesses. But, you know, hope springs eternal and I think the growing debate in this country and this city about fairness will inform this discussion.”
Applause from Brooklyn officials
Despite the caveats, numerous officials applauded the setting of the goal. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said in a release that “there is reason to expect that City Hall’s new approach to M/WBEs will help close the historical gap. Access to capital, services and support are critical to ensuring that hard-working entrepreneurs will be able to better build their businesses and their communities.”
Assemblymember Jo Ann Simon (AD 52) said, “Setting aggressive goals, committing to tracking progress, and educating the public about these efforts will make a real difference in closing this yawning gap.”
Councilmember Robert E. Cornegy, Jr., chair of the Committee on Small Business, said, “The creation of the Mayor’s Office of Minority- and Women-owned Business Enterprises solidifies the Administration’s commitment to ensuring that these small businesses have dedicated resources and a real seat at the table.”
David Ehrenberg, president and CEO of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, applauded the mayor’s initiative. He said that over the Navy Yard’s last three projects, more than $55 million was awarded in M/WBE contracts, exceeding 35 percent of the total contract amount.
“To truly move the needle, bold steps are needed,” Ehrenberg said.
To date, the city’s Department of Small Business Services (SBS) has certified over 4,500 M/WBE firms, a 23 percent increase since the beginning of the de Blasio administration, according to numbers provided by the city.
De Blasio has set a goal of doubling the number of certified and re-certified M/WBEs from 4,500 to 9,000 by 2019.
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