Maya Wiley’s departure reinforces lack of MWBE progress

With the departure of Maya Wiley, Mayor Bill de Blasio is losing a member of his administration who essentially wore four hats: counsel to the mayor; head of special projects, which included citywide broadband expansion; liaison to the Mayor's Advisory Committee on the Judiciary; and, perhaps most importantly, the city's Minority/Women Owned Business Enterprise (MWBE) director.

While I wish Wiley better luck in her new position at the Civilian Complaint Review Board, this administration has made woeful progress in addressing the egregious disadvantage that MWBEs face in this city, despite Wiley’s best efforts. De Blasio cannot continue to talk about income inequality as the plight of low-income and minority workers without recognizing the difficult circumstances surrounding MWBEs, and addressing them in a serious way.

MWBEs contribute more than $200 billion every year to our state economy, but are constantly being rejected from financial opportunities that would help them thrive. While close to 30 percent of firms in New York City are MWBEs, less than 5 percent of the city's contracts and dollars are awarded to these companies. In a city with a population that is 52 percent female and over 65 percent minority, why are MWBEs substantially underrepresented in the city’s spending? And why did that not change under Wiley’s direction? It starts at the top with the mayor.

Recently, The Black Institute issued a report highlighting core issues MWBEs faced and put forth five policy and legislative recommendations to address them. One of these suggestions was to amend New York City’s Local Law 1 to increase the share of contracts awarded to MWBEs to 35 percent, revamp the bidding process to maximize openness and transparency, and expand MWBE requirements to all city agencies. The paramount suggestion was to establish a full-time chief diversity officer. It is a sham and a shame that none of the five recommendations were even considered, particularly the chief diversity officer.

While de Blasio and Wiley did tout the creation of an advisory council on MWBEs last December, comprised of “key stakeholders in the M/WBE community,” we have no indication of who these members are. The advisory council is responsible for awarding more than $16 billion to MWBE businesses over the next 10 years, but there is no indication the advisory council has ever had a meeting or has made any recommendations. MWBEs need support now; they do not have time to wait until this administration is no longer in office.

In the past year, de Blasio has continued to make empty promises. In front of dozens of MWBEs that call New York City home, he swore to convene a summit of the depository banks that have “redlined” MWBEs and not given them fair loans. These businesses won’t thrive without access to credit and capital, whether through traditional loans or alternative banking products. We are still waiting for that meeting. It is imperative that de Blasio opens a line of communication and gives these business owners a voice. We need him to support policies that would give MWBEs equal opportunity to credit and capital funds. They should not be relegated to begging for help from predatory lenders.

De Blasio has not even addressed the City Council legislation that was put forth by The Black Leadership Action Coalition – supported by The Black Institute – to fundamentally change MWBE contracting. Sponsored by members of the Council’s Women’s Caucus, these laws would amend New York City’s Local Law – creating real financial stability for our city by increasing the percentage of city contracts awarded to MWBEs, requiring city agencies and contractors to hire MWBE consultants for public works projects over $2 million, streamlining the certification process, and fixing the payment system so that contractors get paid in a timely manner.

Many of those concerned with MWBEs believe that, with Wiley having so many responsibilities, these opportunities to address increased support for MWBEs fell through the cracks. This neglectful attitude caused many to lose sight of the American Dream they were trying to achieve. It is our duty to ensure that this does not continue. We demand that de Blasio use the opportunity of Wiley’s departure to make a real commitment to MWBEs and the people of color that voted for and elected him.

De Blasio must use Wiley's departure as an opportunity to appoint an experienced individual to become the point person for MWBEs. It is time that we gave them a real chance to succeed. But given the deplorable state of MWBEs in this city under this administration, maybe it is simply a question of mind over matter.

The mayor doesn't mind, because MWBEs don't matter.

Bertha Lewis is the founder and president of The Black Institute.

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