A curious term “minority,” oft times used with inaccurate reference in this current-day lexicon to describe non-white folk. That being said, accepted as its use is in so many political, economic and social circles, on Wednesday, Governor David Paterson introduced his minority- and women-owned business (MWBE) bill to “increase the utilization of minority and woman-owned business enterprise underwriters for state debt offerings.”
This legislation seeks to provide a framework so that state agencies and public authorities can be held accountable for their commitment to MWBE participation and diversity in the area of procurement.
The magnanimous specter of late Atlanta mayor Maynard Jackson loomed over New York State this week, as Gov. David Paterson introduced his legislation.
“[Mayor Jackson] was an amazing man,” Paterson told the Amsterdam News. “He explained to me how this all should work in the year 2000. He was a great man, and it was all down to him.”
Paterson’s MWBE plan looks closely at the blueprint Jackson laid out for Atlanta in the 1970s.
“It is similar. He explained back in the year 2000 how this all should work, and that’s what got me interested in MWBEs, talking to him,” said the governor.
In a statement from Paterson’s office, the governor noted, “The MWBE Task Force issued its final report on March 24. As part of its report, the Task Force recommended that legislation be enacted to increase accountability on the part of state agencies and public authorities regarding their compliance with existing provisions of law pertaining to participation by MWBEs and to promote the state’s utilization of MWBE and non-MWBE firms that have sound diversity practices.”
Asked if this legislation will be a paper tiger or actually have teeth, Paterson told the paper, “One of the things that I remember was when David Dinkins became mayor, he raised the MWBE in New York City for four years to a very acceptable and very fair level, and when he left, Mayor Giuliani canceled the plan in a day and MWBE in New York City has been terrible up to this day.
“There are very few contracts in New York City. So in two years, I have raised the MWBE standards in New York to make us one the top 10 states. We were in the bottom 10 two years ago. And for debt issuance, we went from 4 percent to 24 percent, and for the rate of MWBE procurements, we went from 5 percent to 17 and a half percent. So, we are doing very well. But when I realized that I was not running for governor–I don’t want anyone with a stroke of a pen to eliminate all of our work over the last two years. So, the legislation is designed to provide institutional teeth to what we have been able to a accomplish so that no one can walk in the door and shut it down.”
In terms of securing the process, Paterson explained that there will be a director of the MWBE development office who will set regulations for the agencies to examine the diversity of companies who want to do business with the state of New York.
“There will be penalties if companies willfully or deliberately ignore the regulations. And in addition, when public authorities engage in procurement, there is a staff member that should be designated to become aware to monitor diversity compliance in the process.”
But then there’s the age-old question: Who will monitor the monitors?
“If we pass the legislation and I sign it, it is now the law,” assured Paterson. “If Giuliani came in, let’s say he became the governor [and he tried to change it], he would be breaking the law. So what a new governor would have to do is pass legislation to eliminate [the law], and I don’t think that would be possible.”
The AmNews asked if he had experienced any resistance to the introduction of his new legislation.
“Oh no, not yet. There are agencies that perform so well that they don’t need to be monitored, and then there are agencies that have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 20th century, even before the 21st century.”
What about elected officials with visions of a conservative-tinged, anti-affirmative action lilt complaining about big government?
“When we come close to passing this legislation, we will find out,” Paterson conceded. “I have a feeling that Republicans and Democrats were so embarrassed when we exposed New York’s discriminatory procurement policies, I think that they recognize that there it has to be whole culture change. In other words, as governor, I’ve been able to make a culture change, but when I’m gone, it has to be institutionally supported, and I think that everyone understands that.
“I think the other thing that will make this whole thing appealing to upstate legislators is that the diversity is also geographic, and the upstate business community feels that previous governors have ignored them. So this will not just be a MWBE proposal, it will really be a proposal that will be forcing the state to pay more attention to companies that have been ignored. And shockingly, some of those were upstate companies run by white men.
“They are not MWBEs. They are not included in the way the legislation is written, but I’m saying that our small business task force was showing that a lot of the white businesses were being forced out of the process. So I think this will help us get support for the legislation, because what was really wrong–it wasn’t racism–it was [the practice of agencies] continuing to do business with the same companies. The whole state had changed and none of these new companies were getting any opportunity to work with the state.”
Can you legislate a culture change? And get Jamal in, as opposed to that old-money set with old habits and etched-in-stone prejudices?
Paterson said that in the legislation there will be annual reports that count how much business companies and agencies do with minority- and women-owned businesses.
He noted that at the onset, “We paid a lot of money to do a diversity study to have people come in and go over everybody’s record. Now the records will be available so you can see the process every year and the legislators who are standing up for African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians and women will know if they’re not getting fair treatment. One of the problems that we had was that when I came in with Spitzer, it took a while to establish how bad it was so that we can legally start making changes. And now we won’t have that problem any more.”
How do you prevent the same old laissez faire?
“It really is not laissez faire,” responded Paterson. “It’s whoever was in the old-boys’ network who got the contracts, and that’s not laissez faire. That’s laissez discrimination.”
But some might compare the old-boys’ club to the golf club in Augusta with no women allowed.
“The problem is, David Paterson is running this golf club,” he chuckled.
Proudly, Paterson declares that the introduction of the bill means, “I have already realized the dream because if you look at all the companies doing business with the state, now it’s the biggest change that has taken place in government in the last two years.”
Last October’s annual Dormitory Authority weekend saw an increase in the usual 200 or 300 people to over 1,000, he said. “As we come out of the recession, you’re going to see more and more jobs created in the communities that will hire qualified African-Americans and Hispanics.”
He opined though, that despite the achievement, “We don’t think that the major media is covering this. They are just totally ignoring it.”
Yet and still, the governor continued, “If we are able to pass this legislation, they are going to be protected, not only by David Paterson until the end of the year, they’ll be protected by the law thereafter.
“I plan to have this done before we leave in June.”
If the legislature gets its head in gear, the bill could be passed with a quickness. But, the governor added, we are still awaiting the late budget.
“The legislature seems paralyzed. They don’t want cut the budget, they don’t want to cut programs, they don’t want to tax. One house of the legislature doesn’t want to borrow. So it reminds me of when people are so afraid of when they have to make decisions that they don’t make any at all. That leaves us with a late budget, but I’m already taking the savings from the bi-weekly appropriations to keep government going. I’m already cutting in the new appropriations, so I’m exacting the reductions that we’re going to need to save money to pay our obligations. We need a plan for this whole year, and we can’t keep doing this bi-weekly.”
Does he foresee a budget in the not-too-distant future?
“I can’t say because they can’t seem to make up their minds, and that’s not something that requires time–it requires courage. When you delay decisions, they don’t go away. Every credit card holder knows this.