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David A. Paterson’s first year as governor of New York can be aptly characterized as a baptism by fire. He’s had to contend with a financial firestorm that has torched the fortunes of Wall Street—and with it a huge chunk of much-needed state tax revenues.
Like governors across the nation, New York’s first African American chief executive seeks to correct the largest budget shortfall in state history. His proposed $121 billion budget with its massive tax hikes, huge service cuts, and other “extreme measures” continues to fuel fiery debate among state legislators, public employee unions, and citizen groups. (At press time, Paterson was seeking to use federal stimulus funds to retool his budget proposal.) In early March, his approval rating stood at 26%.
Despite the firestorm, Paterson’s focus is squarely on keeping the Empire State’s economy humming. A staunch supporter of minority business development, he’s found part of the answer in a brand of government activism that follows the model of late Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson.
Paterson is seeking to increase opportunities through the creation of a minority business task force to establish inclusive policies as well as enforcement of Executive Order No. 8, which in 2007 set up a council composed of state agency heads to promote the participation of minority- and women-owned business enterprises (MWBE). The governor’s emphasis on across-the-board MWBE participation in state projects has opened doors for, among other entities, black-owned construction management companies, investment banks, and law firms.
But achieving this ambitious plan will not be easy. In fact, the national credit crunch scuttled a model project, the construction of a $370 million video lottery terminal at a horse racing track, which would have given The Peebles Corp. (No. 18 on the be industrial/service 100 list with revenues of $245 million) and black-owned construction management firm McKissack & McKissack the chance to become prime contractors and equity partners. As Paterson grapples with a myriad of challenges and responsibilities, he spoke with black enterprise about his future plans.