BROOKLYN NAVY YARD — The city will award 30 percent all contracts to businesses owned by minorities and women by the year 2021, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday.
The announcement comes as the mayor has faced scrutiny from African-American leaders about the amount of city contracts awarded to the firms, known by the acronym MWBE. African-Americans remain the mayor's strongest supporters but some leaders have broken with the mayor over the issue.
Last week, Comptroller Scott Stringer, considered a possible de Blasio challenger in 2017, criticized the mayor's minority contracting efforts saying he had failed to use a powerful tool to reduce inequality and outlined proposals similar to what the mayor revealed Wednesday.
In 2015, Stringer gave the city a D+ for awarding only 5.3 percent of its nearly $14 billion in contracts to MWBE firms. Companies owned by blacks and Latinos received only 2 percent of city contracts.
And Gov. Andrew Cuomo set his own 30 percent MWBE goal back in 2014.
The mayor said none of those moves had affected his decision to push the 30 percent goal.
"We've been working on this for a long, long time," said de Blasio, adding that his efforts "predate anybody's press conference or report."
The mayor, who ran on a platform of reducing inequality, said that this contracting goal "changes the rules of the game to create fairness, to create equity" because "the game hasn't been fair" in the past.
"If you give empowerment opportunity and resources to women and people of color, guess what, they are going to hire women and people of color and give them a chance," said de Blasio.
Under the mayor's plan:
• The city will create the Mayor's Office for MWBE to increase the number of minority and women-owned firms able to compete for contracts and insure access to city agencies.
• The office will be led by the mayor's MWBE advisor Jonnel Doris and Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives Richard Buery will be the director of the city's MWBE program.
• The city is launching a low interest loan fund to allow certified MWBE's and other small businesses that can't qualify for financing elsewhere to receive up to $500,000 at a maximum interest rate of 3 percent.
• The city will lobby the state to change bidding laws to allow for more contracts to go to MWBE firms.
• The city wants the contract amount it can award on a discretionary basis without having to go through a formal bidding process increased.
The state already has those discretionary measures in place, the mayor said.
Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte, chair of the MWBE subcommittee, said many of the bills passed around minority contracting in the Assembly never even make it to the floor of the Republican-controlled Senate.
"There's still a level of racism and injustices," said Bichotte. Some lawmakers still view MWBE as "handouts."
The changes have been long called for by some of the mayor's former allies, including Bertha Lewis, head of the The Black Institute and a founding member of The Working Families Party, and the Rev. Johnnie Green, president of Mobilizing Preachers and Community.
Until recently, the city's MWBE efforts were headed by former de Blasio counsel Maya Wiley, who recently left City Hall to head the Civilian Complaint Review Board.
But advocates said Wiley was wearing too many hats at City Hall and that the issue was important enough to demand its own mayoral level department.
Lewis, who supported de Blasio's 2013 campaign, has said that she would not support his re-election because of the city's dismal MWBE participation rate.
She commended the mayor's announcement as "progress," but did not say whether she would now support de Blasio in 2017.
Stringer said "the devil is in the details" of the proposals.
"After years of poorly implemented plans, New Yorkers deserve specifics. As the administration fleshes out their strategy, my office will continue to push agencies to increase their MWBE spending," he said.
Green said he "applauds the mayor for finally moving forward after three years of being pressed" but called the five year goal to reach 30 percent MWBE participation "insulting" to business owners and advocates.
"We don't want anymore window dressing and happy talk. To say you are going to change the goal to 30 percent but that it won't be in effect until 2021 is happy talk," said Green whose group is looking for a candidate to challenge de Blasio.
"Five years is a long time," he said. "How much longer should blacks and minorities and women wait?"