Op-ed by NYC Comptroller Scott M. Stringer “Leveling the Playing Field for Minority Owned Businesses”
Brick by brick and block by block, New York City was built on its diversity and by people from all over the world. But in the halls of City government, you wouldn’t be able to tell. Because while over 80 percent of New Yorkers are women or people of color, the vast majority of the City’s budget spending last year – roughly 94.5% – went to companies owned by white men.
In 2019, this disparity is stunning. But guess what, just five years ago, when my office started analyzing spending data and evaluating New York City government agencies on their spending levels with minority and women owned businesses (MWBEs), it was even worse. In fact, this is the fourth year in a row that the City earned a D+ grade from my office for its spending with MWBEs. Before that, the City had a D.
When we take a closer look, the City is doing better in some communities – yet utterly failing in others. This year, my office found that the City earned a “C” grade with Asian Americans, “D” Grade with Hispanic Americans, “D” Grade with Women, and “F” Grade with African Americans.
Looking just at businesses owned by Hispanic Americans, eight agencies earned “A” grades, three received “C” grades, ten received “D” grades, and 11 received “F” grades. More agencies are failing or doing poorly, than are making the grade. That’s simply unacceptable.
It’s clear that if we’re going to attack racial and economic inequality throughout New York, we have to start with local government and the way we spend taxpayer dollars, first.
In other words, we need structural reform to really move the needle on equity in New York.
That’s why I’ve proposed the creation of a Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) as a top official in City Hall to put political power behind equity. The NYC CDO would have a mandate to address pervasive patterns of discrimination. But we shouldn’t just have one CDO for the whole city, there should be CDOs in each of the City agencies, holding all of them accountable to the diversity that makes New York City so special.
Here’s how it works. The Chief Diversity Officer in City Hall would hire in conjunction with commissioners Chief Diversity Officers at every city agency who will be able to take a look under the hood—and have a microscopic view of systemic inequities within specific agencies. Together—they would be able to address concerns about systemic gaps at agencies, develop the resources needed to address them, and also create equity for M/WBEs.
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We know CDOs help. In my office, we created the first-ever CDO and nearly tripled our spending with MWBEs from 11% to 29% in just five years. Imagine if we could do that citywide. That would be billions in new revenue going to building up local businesses in our communities. It means real local wealth creation and a true five-borough economy.
The City Charter Revision Commission provides a way to get it done. This commission is combing through the constitution of our city and giving New Yorkers an opportunity to vote on proposals in the November 2019 election. One of those ballot options should be a Chief Diversity Officer, so that New Yorkers have the chance to write equity into our city’s blueprint.
It’s time for us to put our money where our mouth is. If you agree, join us in calling on the Charter Commission to make this change and sign our petition here. And let’s take on inequality in our economy – and across every agency in the city.
Scott M. Stringer is the New York City Comptroller.