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Black Ministers Threaten to Pull Support For Cuomo Over LaGuardia Plan

By Jeff Mays | October 5, 2015 3:34pm
 A group of ministers and elected officials is calling on Gov.  Andrew Cuomo  to insure that 30 percent of the $4 billion plan to rebuild LaGuardia Airport is handled by firms owned by minorities at the highest levels of the project.
Black Ministers Threaten to Pull Support For Cuomo Over LaGuardia Rebuild
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MIDTOWN — A group of ministers and elected officials is calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to ensure that 30 percent of the $4 billion plan to rebuild LaGuardia Airport is handled by firms owned by minorities at the highest levels of the project.

In a letter to Cuomo and Rep. Joseph Crowley, the group, Mobilizing Preachers and Communities, said that no minority-owned firm is a primary partner with LaGuardia Gateway Partners, the consortium chosen to rebuild the airport's central terminal in May.

"For this project to have been allowed to begin and reach this stage without significant (minority) participation, and with no plan to include the surrounding neighborhoods, is a moral stain on our great city," the letter read.

"I'm a staunch supporter of Gov. Cuomo but I'm also going to hold him accountable," said Rev. Johnnie Green, pastor of the 1,500 member Mount Neboh Church in Harlem. "If you can't help our community then you won't receive our support. We are not giving our vote away for free anymore."

State Sen. James Sanders, who represents Queens, is also on board.

"There is a 'good old boy network' in our city that has put forth the mythology that only they are willing and able to build New York State," said Sanders. "That has certainly been detrimental to communities of color."

Under the plan Cuomo announced in August with Vice President Joseph Biden, LaGuardia's central terminal will be rebuilt and more taxi space will be added by moving the terminals closer to the Grand Central Parkway.

Delta will also redevelop the two terminals it controls and connect them with the central terminal.

Biden infamously said LaGuardia looked like a "third world country" and the airport is considered one of the worst in the country for its consistent delays and lack of amenities. 

LaGuardia Gateway Partners, a consortium led by Vantage Airport Group, includes industry giants such as construction and development firm Skanska, transportation engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff and architecture firm HOK, among others.

None are minority-owned.

Cuomo pledged in 2014 that the state would meet a goal of 30 percent of minority and women owned businesses— what he called the highest goal in the nation— for state contracts.

"Discrimination and racism is alive and well and it is illegal," Cuomo said in a statement announcing the goal. "Government has an affirmative obligation to right these wrongs, and we need to have the same strength in enforcing these laws as we do with criminal and drug laws."

MPAC members say they have had encouraging meetings with the Port Authority, Cuomo's counsel and Vantage Airport Group.

However, the group fears that the 30 percent goal will be met at the subcontractor level or below. MPAC is fighting for minority-owned to be on the level of Vantage and Skanska.

They're backing a group called Transportation Consortium of New York to be an equity partner.

Among the consortium's members are the Switzer Group, the largest African-American-owned interior architecture firm in the country, and Manning Architects, which has worked on the Dallas and New Orleans airports.

LaGuardia Gateway Partners has committed $200 million in equity and Transportation Consortium of New York say they are prepared to commit 30 percent of that amount, or $60 million.

"In those cities such as Atlanta and Washington, D.C. where minority contracting has paved the way for a black middle class, that percentage included equity," said the Rev. Clinton Miller, pastor of the 1,200 member Brown Memorial Baptist Church in Clinton Hill.

At stake, said Sanders, is the economic health of communities like the one he represents in Queens where the unemployment rate for both blacks and Latinos is more than double the 3.4 percent for whites, according to the Community Service Society.

Minority-owned firms are more likely to hire minority employees and to be willing to train them, said the ministers. 

"I am tired of stepping over the bodies of the homeless and walking past people who beg me for work," said Sanders.

A spokeswoman for Cuomo, said the governor is "committed" to "increasing participation by minority, women and disadvantaged businesses for all state projects," including the redevelopment of LaGuardia Airport.

“The developer, LaGuardia Gateway Partners, is still the early stages of detailed negotiations with the Port Authority on the master lease and is talking to several MWBE firms about ‘prime’ level inclusion in the deal as part of their efforts to meet the goal," said Cuomo spokeswoman Beth DeFalco.

Officials from the Port Authority said that the 35-year lease with LaGuardia Gateway Partners has yet to be signed and that no third-party contractors or subcontractors will be chosen until the deal is finalized.

In addition, Port Authority officials said that Transportation Consortium of New York did not respond to the request for proposals to redevelop the airport — no minority firm did.

Port Authority officials also consider the consortium to be from out of town in spite of the fact that several members of the consortium, including IntraCity Builders, which has worked on the Coney Island boardwalk and Richard Rodgers Amphitheater in Harlem, are based in New York City.

Larry English, CEO of Transportation Consortium of New York, said the group realized it did not have the capacity to be the prime contractor and purposely pursued a strategy of becoming a minority-owned equity partner.

"The governor said he is committed to trying to grow minority firms to operate at the Skanska and Vantage level," said English who added that participation in this project would push his group to the level where they could bid on projects the size of LaGuardia Airport. "This is the perfect opportunity."