The six 2013 New York City mayoral candidates appeared together on stage for the first time this afternoon at a forum sponsored by City & State — and were largely in agreement that the Bloomberg administration had failed in its efforts to provide more city contracting opportunities to women and minority-owned businesses. The forum was part of a morning-long series of panels on MWBE issues in New York City, which also included opening remarks by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Sitting side-by-side in a packed auditorium at New York University, the rivals often clapped for one another, though they did have some minor policy disagreements. In the forum’s most poignant moments, debate moderator David Chen, the City Hall bureau chief for the New York Times, prodded the various candidates to assign a letter grade to Bloomberg’s efforts to give more contracting opportunities to MWBEs. All the candidates agreed that Local Law 129, passed in 2005 to provide those businesses with more city contracts, had not been implemented particularly well, and had not gone far enough, but differed in the degree of their critiques.
Comptroller John Liu and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, historically strong critics of the mayor, both gave Bloomberg F’s.
Council Speaker Christine Quinn gave Bloomberg, a close ally, a “C or C-minus,” after some prompting from Chen for a specific grade.
Tom Allon, the president of Manhattan Media (which owns City & State) gave the mayor a B-minus for effort and a C-minus for the oversall results. Meanwhile, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, though critical of Bloomberg, refused to assign a grade, as did ex-Comptroller Bill Thompson, who simply said the administration’s MWBE efforts were “failing.”
There was a bit of disagreement over whether the next mayor should create the position of “chief diversity officer.” Stringer broached the idea and was strongly in favor, as were several others, but Liu said it was unnecessary.
“We don’t need a diversity officer to make diversity a priority,” Liu said. “We need a chief executive officer who will make diversity a priority.
Meanwhile, Allon – the longshot candidate in the race, who has never held political office – challenged the elected officials at the table to hire chief diversity officers in their own offices.
“That’s what I would do if I were public advocate, or comptroller or borough president or speaker,” Allon said, sparking laughter.
The debate’s most light-hearted moment came when Stringer announced whom he wanted to appoint as his chief diversity officer, turning to his left and addressing Thompson.
“Let’s look at what Bill Thompson and the Cuomo administration did, because they’re already years ahead of what the city can do,” Stringer said, adding. “And by the way, my chief diversity officer [position], if you want it, it’s yours. Anything you want is yours!”
“I am not going to offer you a position,” Thompson retorted to Stringer. “Another position perhaps. But not that one.”
That was not the only job offer proffered during the forum.
De Blasio later told Stringer that he was so impressed Manhattan borough president’s rhetorical flourishes, Stringer had the inside track to be the de Blasio administration’s communications director.
“You could be the new Howard,” de Blasio said. “You would be a better-dressed Howard Wolfson.”
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