By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
By Roy Edroso
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
By Zachary D. Roberts
Mayor Michael Bloomberg's most remarkable political achievement was winning half of the black vote and a third of the Hispanic vote in 2005 as a white Republican running against Fernando Ferrer, the first Latino ever nominated by a major party for any citywide office.
Nothing like it had ever happened before in a town where race and party are as linked as Bloomberg and bucks, and the mayor spent millions chasing what the media kept calling "minorities"—though, for the first time in that election, whites were less than half of the city electorate. As Congressman Charlie Rangel put it the day after the election, Bloomberg "breaks all the rules" and "appears to be able to appeal to people regardless of their color."
Rangel never formally endorsed the mayor, but he did appear at two pre-election press conferences with him, boosting a new City Hall program designed to recruit black and Hispanic apprentices into the construction trades. Bloomberg's Commission of Construction Opportunity was one of two ballyhooed initiatives targeting minorities that were announced in the glare of the re-election campaign. The other one was an executive order creating a new Minority and Women Business Enterprise (MWBE) program, which Bloomberg signed with black endorsers like Queens Borough President Helen Marshall and State Senator Malcolm Smith at his side.
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These signature programs—touted in the campaign's radio and television ads—have since disappeared from both the public's consciousness and the mayor's agenda. Bloomberg issued a "Campaign Accountability Report" last year, claiming success in 96 of the 100 promises he'd made in 2005. That list of campaign pledges did not include the MWBE or construction- apprenticeship initiatives. Stu Loeser, the mayor's press secretary, tells the Voice that both programs, though announced in the closing weeks of the campaign, were "government" initiatives unveiled at City Hall, "not campaign promises." Ironically, the one element of the mayor's 10-point construction plan that has been fully achieved—the creation of the new High School for Construction Trades, Engineering and Architecture—is listed as a promise in the accountability report. Loeser says that's because the mayor had separately referred to the school at a campaign event a week after the overall construction plan was announced.
While Bloomberg's sensitive handling of the Sean Bell shooting and other police-abuse cases are commendable milestones in his two-term tenure, the meager results of his minority hiring and contracting initiatives suggest that, with just a year and a half to go, his legacy on racial-justice issues will be tough to square with the record-setting minority vote that re-elected him.
After election day, the implementation of both initiatives was immediately relegated to an obscure city agency called the Department of Small Business Services (SBS)—which had, surprisingly, more blacks at the top under Rudy Giuliani than it does today under Mike Bloomberg. Once run by a series of four consecutive black commissioners and other minority deputies, its table of organization now lists white employees in virtually every top position; the sole exception is Larry Scott Blackmon, a former aide to Rangel who worked in the 2005 Bloomberg campaign. Though the SBS website says that Blackmon, a 33-year-old political operative who once ran the MWBE program for the planned New York Jets stadium, "is responsible for overseeing" the construction-opportunity commission and "works closely" with another deputy on MWBE, he doesn't supervise either. In fact, except for noticeable growth in both construction apprenticeships and city contracts for non-minority women, it's not clear that anyone at SBS has been actively making good on these campaign promises.
Ferrer, who dropped out of politics and now works for a private public-relations firm, tells the Voice that these programs "are only successful in the eyes of the initiator." The former Bronx borough president insists that "if it were anyone else, there would be much more accountability on these promises," and he also decries the media "quiescence" that has selectively protected the Bloomberg administration. "I have never seen it so still," he says, contrasting the media's lack of penetrating questions about Bloomberg's second-term record with the coverage of his three immediate predecessors: Giuliani, David Dinkins, and Ed Koch.
Councilman James Sanders, who crossed party lines to endorse Bloomberg in 2005 after discussions with the mayor's aides about an MWBE program "with teeth," says he feels betrayed. "We should all cry about the impact of the executive order," he tells the Voice. "I'm growing to believe that there wasn't an honest spirit."
Sanders says he raised the issue of minority contracting in the first conversation he ever had with the mayor, in 2002, as well as several times since then. As chair of the City Council's economic-development committee, he became the prime sponsor of the council's MWBE bill, Local Law 129, "because a minority company could do better in Selma, Alabama, than in New York City." But Sanders now believes that "we are further segmenting the city" by failing to use the law he drafted—and which Bloomberg signed, a few weeks after the 2005 election—to integrate the city's business community. (Bloomberg, who also endorsed Sanders, carried his black middle-class district in Queens by thousands of votes.)