By David Mark Greaves
In his victory speech, Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio said “The people of this city have chosen a progressive path, and tonight we set forth on it, together, as one city.” What does that mean to African-Americans? We hope that progressive path includes an examination of the MWBE report card that John Liu created on the comptroller’s web site which reveals what is perhaps the key to African-American empowerment in New York, and that is how the city spends its money. Here are some examples of the percentages of MWBE contracts that city agencies have with black-owned firms: Department of Health and Mental Hygiene 3%, Department of Small Business Services 2%, Department of Cultural Affairs 1% and the Department for the Aging 2%. And those percentages, as paltry and sad as they are, are themselves only a sliver of the tiny portion (3.9%) allotted to MWBE firms from the $70 billion city budget.
In the days to come, we would like to hear Mayor deBlasio issue administration-wide instructions to dramatically change those numbers, redistributing the dollars that will begin to solve the emotional and financial depression in the African-American community. And while we understand that it is a process that ultimately begins with prenatal care and continues through grade 12 (and beyond, if the student’s in the CUNY system), there are immediate things that can be done. Mayor David Dinkins set MWBE goals in his administration and we’d like to see Mayor de Blasio, who worked with Dinkins, set ambitious goals for his administration, and create the pipeline in education and support services that will help them to be reached.
We did not hear de Blasio address the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit setting aside federal
District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin’s ruling and upholding the city’s appeal. This puts the ball in the new mayor’s court, and while he called the appeal’s court decision “outrageous”, he did not take this obvious opportunity to proclaim, or even suggest, that the city would drop the appeal and allow Judge Scheindlin’s ruling to stand. Perhaps that will come later.
Some low-hanging fruit that can be harvested now would be an expansion of the summer youth employment program that goes beyond replacing the Bloomberg cuts and would be a part of the education and support pipeline our young people hunger for.
One change we know will come now is the end to the inequality of arrests and jail time for small amounts of marijuana in Kings County. Brooklyn’s new District Attorney, Ken Thompson, has said that “Too many young people are being arrested for low-level drug charges that leave a permanent stain on their records for what should be a violation.” The system that puts young people in jail and destroys their futures with an arrest for selling 2 grams or less or one cigarette of marijuana, a Class B misdemeanor punishable by 3 months in jail, and at the same time allowed hedge fund billionaire Steven Cohen to operate what the government complaint, unsealed on Monday, described as a company where “insider trading was substantial, pervasive and on a scale without known precedent in the hedge fund industry”, gets a fine that has zero impact on his lifestyle, is one that we’re glad to see change.