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2013 Mayoral Candidates Call for 'Chief Diversity Officer'

By Jill Colvin | June 12, 2012 7:00pm
The forum was the first  to feature all six of the presumptive Democratic candidates.
The forum was the first to feature all six of the presumptive Democratic candidates.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

GREENWICH VILLAGE — They’re not even officially candidates, but they’re already dishing out jobs in their longed-for mayoral administrations.

The six leading Democrats vying to replace Mayor Michael Bloomberg faced off for the first time at a candidates’ forum Tuesday afternoon at New York University, where they blasted the current administration’s record on diversity. They promised to do more to help minority- and women-owned businesses.

As part of the solution, many called for the hiring of a new Chief Diversity Officer — and some were even naming names.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said he knew the perfect candidate: former City Comptroller Bill Thompson, who was sitting to his left.

The candidates huddled together after the forum.
The candidates huddled together after the forum.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

“If you want it, it’s yours. Actually, anything you want is yours,” said Stringer after assailing the Bloomberg administration’s record, citing the fact that only 3.7 percent of contracts currently go to minority-owned business.

Thompson, who officially declared his candidacy last year, endorsed the diversity officer idea, but not with Stringer in the role.

“Scott, I am not going to offer you the position of Chief Diversity Officer. Another position perhaps, but not that one,” he said with a smile.

Later Public Advocate Bill de Blasio said he instead envisioned Stringer as his communications director, after a zinger at the mayor's crew.

"You would be a better dressed Howard Wolfson!” de Blasio said.

The exchanges were part of an in-depth discussion on the state of minority- and women-owned businesses. Many complain these companies are being shut out of city contracts and not given the support they need.  

De Blasio offered perhaps the most pointed criticism of the bunch, arguing that frustrations in the community stem from a lack of diversity in the top ranks of City Hall.

“If you go to City Hall you do not see an administration that looks like New York City,” said de Blasio, who gave the administration an “F” on diversity issues “plain and simple [because they have] chosen the wrong lineup.”

“I think it’s plain that the current administration in City Hall is not serious about this issue,” he said.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, typically a close ally of the mayor, was less inclined to take shots at Bloomberg, but nonetheless said much more needs to be done, including cutting red tape, working more closely with subcontractors and better monitoring.

“The results, they are not satisfactory...  because they’re laughably low,” she said, offering the administration a "C or C-" grade on its results.

Embattled City Comptroller John Liu agreed that regulations need to be strengthened, but said more could be done even without new laws.

He pointed to what he called “shockingly low participation rates" in terms of the share of city contract dollars, which hovers at just 2.4 percent.

“We need a cultural shift, a change in attitude,” he said. “And that change in attitude has to come from the top.”

Bloomberg, meanwhile, defended the administration's efforts to create opportunities for small, and minority- and women-owned businesses, including new programs to help them secure loans, partner with larger business and get technical assistance.

“We’re going to continue working together to ensure that business opportunities are available to everyone,” he said at a separate forum, which was part of a day-long event sponsored by the newspaper City & State.

Bloomberg noted that since December 2005, women- and minority-certified vendors have secured more than $2.7 billion in city contracts, with nearly $563 million in city contracts awarded to firms owned by minorities and women in 2011 alone.

Thompson and Manhattan Media publisher Tom Allon are the only two Democrats who have officially declared their candidacy. The others on the panel are expected to formalize their plans in the coming months.