NEW YORK CITY — Mayor Bill de Blasio isn't doing enough to make sure minority and women-owned firms have access to billions of dollars in city contracts, advocates said Monday.
The criticism came as de Blasio announced he was forming an advisory council to help the city reach its goals of awarding $16 billion in city contracts to minority and women-owned businesses over the next decade and as the City Council held a hearing on legislation to strengthen minority contracting.
"This administration is long on rhetoric and short on action," said Bertha Lewis, head of the The Black Institute and a founding member of The Working Families Party, which supported de Blasio for mayor.
She also called the de Blasio administration "incompetent and immoral" during a press conference on the steps of City Hall.
The mayor, who has retained overwhelming support from blacks and Latinos, has come under criticism for the city's minority contracting process.
A report from Comptroller Scott Stringer found that firms owned by minorities and women received only 5.3 percent of the $13.8 billion the city handed out in contracts during the last fiscal year, a total of $725 million. The report gave the administration a D+ on minority contracting.
Don Peebles, a developer and former de Blasio supporter, has said de Blasio does not deserve minority support because blacks and Latinos received only .43 percent of the $13.8 billion in city contracts.
A recently announced effort by de Blasio to create a $20 million loan and bond program for minority developers was also dismissed as insulting given the billions of dollars in contracts that the city awards each year and the mayor's focus on income inequality.
Critics say improving minority and women contracting efforts would be the quickest way to tackle income inequality, the signature issue of de Blasio's 2013 campaign for mayor and a focal point of his 2-year-old administration.
Rodneyse Bichotte, a Brooklyn assemblywoman whose campaign de Blasio supported, was appointed to the advisory panel. She called the $20 million fund "just a dime in the bucket" but said she is optimistic about future changes.
"It's a step and hopefully that step will take us to a bigger step," she added.
De Blasio's counsel and minority and women owned businesses director Maya Wiley defended efforts the city is making to address the issue during the Council hearing. The $16 billion in contracts represents an $11 billion increase, over the same period, she said.
"All too often it's about who you know, not what you know," Wiley said. "We are not done. We are not satisfied and we are in partnership with you and the MWBE community."
But numerous minority business owners and advocates said the city was not headed in the right direction. Some spoke of the difficulty in getting contracts even though they were qualified and others spoke of a simple lack of access.
"This administration does not have 10 years," Lewis said of the administration's 10-year, $16 billion minority contracting plan. "This administration doesn't have four years."