Hispanic Business Community Fuming Over Christine Quinn's Support of New Bill

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn's support of a revised law aimed at helping women and minority-owned businesses secure contracts with city agencies could cost her Hispanic votes in the upcoming 2013 mayoral election.

"[Christine] Quinn is going to lose the Hispanic vote because we're going to make sure of that," Frank Garcia, chairman of the New York State Coalition of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, tells the Voice. "We don't feel that [she] takes the Hispanic vote very seriously right now."

Garcia and other Hispanic business leaders are upset over proposed revisions to the 2005 Local Law 129. The City Council Committee on Contracts held a hearing on the revisions yesterday -- at which Deputy Mayor of Operations Cas Halloway announced that the city's current goal to contract with Hispanic-owned construction companies would decrease from 9.06 percent to 4 percent under the new bill.

The law, which established the Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprise, sets contracting goals for African-American, Asian-American, Hispanic-American and Caucasian female business owners in the areas of construction, goods, professional and standardized services. The M/WBE program was established to address disparities in the number of women and minorities contracted to do work for city agencies, but it has failed to achieve that goal.

The newly revised percentage goals are based on the number of firms certified to contract with city agencies and the number of those certified agencies which are actually selected to do work.

Garcia says a number of Latino business owners were discouraged by the certification process. That's because they were the only minority group required to prove their heritage, by way of affidavit, in order to make their businesses eligible for contracting.

Although African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans saw increases in other areas of contracting, they were confused as to why their projections went down in construction, while the goal for Caucasian women increased so dramatically.

"They're doing more business than all of us right now, without [the] percentages. If you look at the numbers of white women, right now they're doing more business than us," Garcia says.

Caucasian women had no goals in construction under the guidelines of this program in 2005, now they have an 18 percent procurement goal. Garcia believes the administration and Quinn gave them a higher percentage because of lobbying and moneyed interests. He says that he will only steer his constituents towards mayoral hopefuls who wlll fight in the interest of the Hispanic community.

"Are they going to defend us on this, or are they going to sellout like Christie Quinn did?" Garcia says. "We feel that the mayor, on this issue and other issues of small business, has not been fair [to] our community, [to] the Latino community."

During the hearing, Councilwoman Inez Dickens brought up the issue of fraud and whether some contracts, intended for women, might actually go to white-male business-owners instead.

"I come from a small business background, and I can think of any number of businesses that are Caucasian-owned, by men, and they put their wives, their girlfriends, their daughter, whatever, up as the owners, and so maybe you should consider a time-frame where there's been a change in ownership, principal ownership," Dickens told Calloway.

With all that said, the debate over percentages may not really mean much ultimately.

"They're really not goals, it's just aspirational. We are also under the jurisdiction or mandate by state law to always go with the lowest responsible bidder," Councilwoman Letitia James said. "So, though we create aspirational goals, the fact is that if it's the lowest responsible bidder, and that lowest responsible bidder happens not to be a member of a minority group, then that contract will go to that individual."

James was referring to a state law that mandates that government contracts be awarded on the basis of whoever has the best and lowest bid, regardless of race.

Another reason why these goals may just be "aspirational" is that there's no real penalty for city agencies and contractors who fail to meet percentage goals.

In 2011, city agencies met less than half of the programs goals. M/WBEs made roughly $73 million of the targeted $153 million total sum in contract earnings. In 2010, they made only about $70 million of the nearly $313 million goal.

"If they're not making a good-faith effort and demonstrating how or why they're not meeting goals, they're going to have to explain themselves," Halloway said. "That's going to factor into whether they are in fact a contractor the city wants to do business with."

Under revised accountability plans for the law, agencies and contractors would have to meet on a quarterly basis to justify their numbers -- in a program modeled to emulate the NYPD's CompStat program. Despite several other useful revisions to its accountability system, the fact remains that the contractors will not face fines or sanctions if they fail to meet goals under this legislation.

Garcia says he and his coalition plans to bite back at the city.

"I'm in process of suing the city of New York because of the soda bill with other advocates. The lawsuit hits next week. And, the reason why we decided to be part of the lawsuit is our presidents are angry -- saying 'okay if the mayor is going to hit us on percentages on Hispanics, we're going to hit him on the soda bill because this does affect the small restaurants in our membership," Garcia says.

They're planning a press conference Wednesday at City Hall to further voice their displeasure.

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