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Diversity challenge for next NYC mayor

By Chole Drew | 9/5/2013, 12:47 p.m. | Updated on 9/5/2013, 12:47 p.m.

 This has been a mayoral race dominated by distractions. From breathless horse-race polling to scandals of little relevance to the average New Yorker’s life, our media has scarcely covered the pressing issues that matter to our great city as it stands at an equally great crossroads. Despite downturns, New York City has rebounded and prospered—but we know that, that prosperity hasn’t reached everyone, and many of our communities, including communities of color, have been left out of the gains other denizens have made in recent years.

It was this disparity that was on the minds of the attendees at the Council of Urban Professionals’ (CUP) mayoral forum, where New York City’s leading candidates sat in front of a roomful of New York City’s top African-American, Latino, Asian-American and women business leaders. For many of us, the diversity of the candidates, their competence and their commitment were remarkable. The excitement was palpable; after 12 years of consistent leadership, we are turning the reins of our dynamic metropolis over to a new set of hands. It was in this spirit—the search for new opportunities—that we asked the candidates pointed questions about how they would ensure that their prospective administrations would reflect the rich fabric of the city they hoped to lead.

As I sat there listening to the candidates talk about how they might tackle issues around economic development and job creation, technology and the “innovation economy,” the growing housing crisis, support for minority- and women-owned businesses and diversifying New York’s tax base, I considered that it is not enough to have the next mayor simply be a person of color or a woman, or that she or he be sensitive to issues that impact communities of color. It’s not enough because the mayor can only do so much—a significant amount of program, policy and innovation comes from the people who the mayor brings into her or his administration. 

That’s why even the most diverse candidate for mayor must hire an equally diverse senior staff in order to ensure that the new administration represents this complex city and all its people. It is an additional benefit that diverse leadership, with regard to race, gender, ethnicity and perspective, has consistently proven to be the most effective and efficient leadership.

To that end, CUP announced New York’s Next Diverse Leaders, a search for top-tier talent that represents the full range of our city’s diversity to serve at the highest echelons of a new administration. This is a two-way challenge: We are working with mayoral candidates to carefully consider extremely talented diverse leaders, and we are also calling on our leaders of color and women leaders to actively consider a role in the public sector. Having successfully conducted similar searches for the administrations of President Barack Obama and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, I am confident we will identify stellar talent for the future of New York City.

At a moment when the city is facing some of its most exciting opportunities in decades, we also face pressing challenges: It is increasingly difficult for low-income families to make ends meet; we still see widespread disenfranchisement of communities of color; and the glass ceiling is still all too real for aspiring women. We need leaders from the business, media, technology, finance and legal communities to join the public sector and build a New York City that works for everyone.

Fortunately, when we asked our mayoral candidates if they would pledge to make sure that their administrations were diverse and reflected the rich mosaic of New York City, most of the candidates agreed. But this goes beyond just promises the candidates make to us. Before the event, we reminded the audience—a roomful of New York’s top talent, drawn from every sector of the economy—that this was not a chance just to listen to the six candidates and ask them what they planned to do to make New York City a better place to live, work, innovate and raise a family. It was just as much an opportunity for audience members to pitch in to make our city healthier, stronger and more equitable.

And so the challenge is not just to our mayoral candidates. It is also to New York’s diverse leaders who love this city and want to make it a better place. To them, we’re asking: How will you serve?