By Gloria Dulan-Wilson
Previously I heralded Governor David Paterson’s making history by signing the first ever Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprise (MWBE) into law in the State of New York.
In case you thought this happened over night, let me assure you this was decades in the making. In fact, the backstory to the passing of this MWBE Bill into law has many “sheroes”* and heroes (*got that term from Rev. Jesse Jackson).
Needless to say, this legislation has been on the governor’s radar for quite some time. Long before he became Governor, in fact, while he was still a senator, David Paterson was concerned about the disparities between mainstream contractors and minority contractors, and made concerted efforts to mitigate the problem. Of course, while he was diligent, the political will of the incumbent “leaders” were neither interested or supportive. So all compliance was relegated to low goals and so called “good faith efforts.”
As Lt. Governor, Paterson traveled throughout the state meeting with minority business organizations and community groups about the lack of inclusion in construction projects, bonding inequities, and being left out of the bids for contracts being let by the state. At the time he pledged to work with them to change the dynamics. Several meetings were held in Brooklyn, which has a fairly large base of Black-owned and operated businesses, many of which are generally relegated to the status of sub-contractor, as opposed to that of prime contractor.
According to Assemblywoman Crystal Beavers, who spoke at the ceremony, “I agree with Darryl Towns, this is the day to give God the glory, because without Him we could not do this on our own. And I mean that. So I give God the glory.”
Beavers stated that the bill would never have seen the light of day, let alone been passed, had it not been for Paterson’s leadership. “It always takes somebody at the leadership level to make things happen. I mean we all work hard under them, but the leaders really make things happen. We really have to give our governor a lot of credit. When I first came to the State Assembly there was no Committee on Oversight of Minority and Women Owned Businesses. That was a new position that was created by the speaker, because we had Darryl Towns, and at the time Clarence Norman was still an assembly member. We needed this position, because we really needed strengthen section 15A, not just renew the sunset.”
Beavers continued enthusiastically: “In order to do that we needed some formal organization that would work continuously on just that issue. And we have done just that. So I am very proud of this thing. I think it’s not only great for the newness of Section 15A, but it’s something good for the groundbreaking legislation that Queen Mother (Ruth Thompson) and I have sent to the Assembly to give opportunities to minorities and women. We’re called the Empire State but sometimes we have to look at other states to see what they’re doing; and other states are going to look at us to see what we’re doing as well.” Prior to being elected to the Assembly, Beavers was a member of Grass Roots, an activist organization in western NY. She well understands the dynamics of activism, coalition-formation and staying the course in bringing a concept to fruition.
As a leader, Governor Paterson has made good on his promise. In June 2008, Governor Paterson’s Executive Order No. 10 established the Task Force on Minority and Women Business Enterprises. Key to the success of that Task Force were Michael Jones-Bey, Executive Director of Empire State Development’s Minority & Women’s Business Development; and Paul T. Williams Jr., the Executive Director of the Dormitory Authority, (DASNY) who served as the Task Force Chairman.
Integrally involved from the very beginning was State Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson (affectionately known as The Queen Mother), whose office played a pivotal role in supporting the efforts to research and compile the necessary information in formulating a bill that would be comprehensive, equitable, and as tamper proof as possible.
Paterson mused, as he prepared to sign the Bills, “I love that in the top 200 businesses in Black Enterprise Magazine, New York has never finished higher than eighth on the list. Even though our population exceeds states like South Carolina - ahead of New York; Georgia - ahead of New York; Alabama - ahead of New York. Would you believe that? In the mid-60’s, in terms of procurement, Alabama won a lot of contracts - won by Congressman Savage - [they] placed number six. New York is now going to soar right past all those states!”
His enthusiasm was indeed contagious, as the audience exploded in applause at the concept of now finally having the wherewithal to level the playing field, making contracting opportunities accessible to all.
According to a report from Governor Paterson’s office, as a result of his initial Executive Order and the work of the Task Force, MWBE participation has already quadrupled. The firms that are involved with investment banking and the issuance of debt went from 4.2 percent MWBE in 2007 to 23.9 percent. Under Governor Paterson's leadership, minority and women firms have yielded an increase of $162 million in revenue from prior year levels. And thirteen percent of stimulus transportation projects have gone to Disadvantaged Business Enterprises – for a total of $146 million dollars and an estimated 3,500 jobs created or saved.
Given the momentum already established, those numbers should more than double by this time next year. However, it definitely remains for the rest of the community, current and future MWBEs, and those looking to start their own businesses, to learn everything they can, do their due diligence, step up to the plate, and keep the ball rolling (how do you like that for a motivational rah-rah speech?).
But you don’t have to take my word for it. What follows are some commentaries from stake holders, advocates and activists who have been in the eye of the storm from the beginning. Their input not only gives texture to the magnitude of this bill, but, hopefully, informs us of what we need to do to make sure it succeeds and has the far reaching benefits for which it was intended -- if you get my drift. So this is not only what it means to them, but what it means for you as well:
I am going to start with Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson, and am quoting her concluding statements first, because they set the tone for the mindset and conscientiousness with which we have to approach the implementation of this legislation:
STATE SENATOR RUTH HASSELL-THOMPSON:
“Read this! Read what the law says! Read what the law says!!! We talk about reading is fundamental, but we don’t really read. These legislative pieces are very important. These are our declarations of independence. This is our declaration that says this gives us the right to enter the market on an equal footing with anybody else. And so we are declaring that ’you free now!”(spoken tongue in cheek street venacular). Until you have economic freedom, you’re not free. But you’re free now. But you know what happens with freedom -- freedom is not free. I made a promise to you. I kept it. Now you have to keep a promise to yourself. That if you were given the opportunity, that you would do what you need to do.”
“These bills intend to bring our State procurement process into the 21st Century by removing barriers that have historically prevented women and persons of color from reaching full economic parity with respect to contracting opportunities in this State. By the year 2040 more than 50% of the population of New York State will be made up of what are termed ‘minority groups.’
“Large corporations have already sought to prepare for this eventuality by engaging in a process known as 'Supplier Diversity.' New York State has lagged behind even the private sector with respect to its contract expenditures for Minority and Women’s Business Enterprises (MWBEs). The four bill package, also known as the New York State Business Diversity Act, ensures that the State's fiduciary-controlled entities, public authorities and agencies have developed and codified a strategy aimed at inclusion, and meaningful participation of MWBEs across New York State. These bills go a long way to ensure that best-practices are institutionalized and that contracting opportunities are readily available for qualified MWBEs.”
In other words, now that the excuse of no opportunity, or no help, or no law is no longer relevant, we really do have to put our money (time, energy, creativity, talent, skills, etc.) where our mouths are.
To get a sense of what the feelings were around the room upon the signing of the Bill into law, I asked the following: “How do you feel about the new law?” And, “Since the Governor is not going to be here after January, do you have a concern? Are we in safe waters? Are we going to see a reversal, which is what Pataki did when he got in office? And what Giuliani did in New York City when he got in. Are we looking at it being a victory for now, only to find it overturned? What’s our safeguard?”
JOSEPH ARGRETTE: President and CEO JMA Concrete Construction Co., who received his MWBE status early on, and has been part of the struggle for parity for minority contractors responded:
“Well this is historical for New York for both women and minorities in business and in construction. As you know, I’ve been around and supporting Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson for many years, when she was the executive director of the WMCA. This is a great day. It is now a law. We’ve got to come back to the table and make it work.”
BILL HOWELL businessman, entrepreneur, minority contractor and advocate for MWBEs:
“We’ve been around this for a while. We’ve seen all the tricks in the book. We already have history. From the late sixties through the early seventies. And we see this as a lot of hard work and commitment and just faith, and wonderful people working together, being totally together to make this come to reality. And today is the fruition of tremendous efforts over many, many years, by a lot of different people. This young man here from the National Minority Business Council, and Jim Heylinger, head of the Association of Minority Enterprises of New York (AMENY); and so many others.
“They said it could not be done, and today it’s just hard to believe -- I had to pinch myself, because it’s real. We’re here. And we’re here because of all the efforts of all these people, and because, also, Governor David Paterson. He was totally committed to this before he was governor, when he was in the Senate. When he became head of the Senate. Then he became the lieutenant governor. But even when he was running, he talked about his commitment to MWBE. And he followed through and he made it happen.
“It’s hard to say if there’s a safeguard, and there is a concern. I think we have to work just as hard to keep this as we did to develop it. Because now that we’ve got it, once you taste a little bit of the freedom; you’ve jumped in the water, you don’t want to go back to second class or third class citizenship. And you want now to, as the young man said on the podiium, we want to now become medium sized businesses, and then large businesses. Because we, after all, we are the majority of the population. So we have a right, we deserve, we’re qualified, capable, we’re skilled. So we can do this, so we’re not going to go back. It ain’t happening!” (Reminiscent of the lyrics in the Black spiritual “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around!”)
FRITZ-EARLE McLYMONT of Mc Lymont, Kunda & Co., an international trade and development corporation strategist, as well as a writer:
“There’s a point I want to make too. We have to look at the facts. We understand the significance of history, but we need to take advantage of the opportunity now. Not next month. And we have to be diligent. We have to be committed. Not just New York State. We have to take advantage of what’s happening nationally and locally. We must begin to understand the significance of relationships. And the trust that we have to have with each other. Because when we have the right individuals in place, we can accomplish a great deal. I look at that building the [Hotel] Theresa, when I worked in there with HARYOUACT, going back to the 60’s; and I’ve seen the changes, we’ve come a long way. But it boils down to the level of relationships that we can maintain.”
JIM HEYLINGER, President AMENY:
We are wielding some major power. Because we are now putting our [own] money up. We are going out to the polls and supporting our candidates. We’re supporting what we really want. We’re getting our friends and family together, like you never have before. The organizations are coming together. We’re talking now. Once upon a time we were like crabs in a basket. We were always fighting. And now I’m delighted that it’s happening in my lifetime! That we are now communicating; we’re working together!!”
Heylinger also paid homage to Nat Singleton, whom called his mentor. Nat Singleton, owner of the Paradise Club and Restaurant in New Rochelle, became an activist for Black businesses and contract parity in the 80‘s. “He laid the foundation for all this. I just want to say that we’ve been fighting this for -- AMENY’s 35 years old -- we’ve been fighting this for at least 25, 30 years up in Albany. I remember there wasn’t but a hand full of senators up there at the time; and it was a struggle. And I’ve come to learn that any struggle we can win when we work together. If we stop worrying about who’s in charge or who’s up front and who has this and who has that, and who’s going to get this, and who’s going to get that, we can win. We only lose when we decide it’s my turn to be up front; or she should get what he has. That’s when we lose. But every time we have worked together we win. We all have a role to play.”
GLORIA DAVIS FORMER NYS ASSEMBLYWOMAN FROM THE BRONX:
Ms. Davis was involved during the days of (former Assemblymember) Al Vann, Senator (Joe) Galiber, Arthur Eves. Former Assemblywoman were on the scene. I.e., Gloria Davis has been in this struggle for a very long time, and has much to share in terms of the rocky road that has been trod in the putting together and passage of this legislation.
“You know, when Jackie called me and said to me that we’re going to get it. We’re being double crossed here and there, but we’re going to get it. And each time she would call she would tell me that they were a little closer and closer and closer. And I go back to when John Flateau was the director of the (Black and Puerto Rican) Caucus. I go back when Art Eve, Gloria Davis, Al Vann, Roger Green and how we used to fight to get the doors open. Not to sit at the table. Just to
open the doors for our people -- for you! “
Ms. Davis stated that Eve would be proud of what they had accomplished. “And I know that some of ya’ll have informed this man of the hard work that he did, because he built this. And he was in the forefront. You know, everybody knows Art. That was our Godfather. Art taught us all. So to see this happening today, and to see the faces that I haven’t seen in a long time, and I salute you Senator Ruth. Because I can remember you coming up, lobbying us. You know, God is good, because you’re no longer lobbying us, you are now leading this. You are Queen Mother! It took a lot to get this legislation passed. And if David Paterson had not been governor, we would not be here. Or if we were here we would have a half a loaf of bread, okay? With a hole in it, and as we leave the slices have withered down to nothing. History has been made today. And I’m glad that God allowed me to watch, to hear and to feel and see this day. I salute you. Thank you!”
What’s necessary now is for us to all realize that unity has always been hardwired in our DNA. There have been efforts to obscure it, with divide and conquer tactics, with defamations of our character, and the systematic deprivation of our right of life, liberty, autonomy and economic parity. But somehow, like a phoenix, that spirit permeated the State Office Building, and the celebration held at Mobays in Harlem. It was cross generational in its effect. Sort of like being on hallowed ground.
But, even the euphoria of the successful passing of the bill, did not delude them about the need to be vigilant in the coming days, and to maintain the spirit of cooperative determination as they move forward to the promulgation and implementation stages of this new Minority and Women Business Enterprise Law.
Please come back for Part III
Stay Blessed &