Scott M. Stringer was elected New York City Comptroller on November 5, 2013 and took office on January 1, succeeding John Liu. In a city of more than 8 million people (more than half of whom belong to ethnic minority groups), New York City’s procurement practices (sadly, like most metropolises) currently do not reflect its diverse population.
BE spoke with Stringer about the state of the city’s contracting process and what the administration plans to do to improve it. Here’s what he had to say:
Under your predecessor, there were some pretty significant underwriting opportunities for some of the minority owned investment banks. What your thoughts with regards to diversity and inclusion?
Scott Stringer: There were significant underwriting opportunities for minority- owned investment banks because of the capabilities these firms bring to the City. If you look at the history of the Comptroller’s office, Bill Thompson and John Liu deserve credit because they made sure those capabilities were recognized. However, the goal should be to expand upon the work of your predecessors which is why I brought on Carra Wallace as the first Chief Diversity Officer of the City of New York, working within the Comptroller’s office.
Since this is a new administration in place, with regards to diversity, how would you rank the prior and what is the one thing that you want to improve upon the most?
Stringer: We have a new administration in office, I believe it’s time to move forward. There are three issues I’ve asked Ms. Wallace to examine:
The first is the procurement of goods and services. The city procured some $16 billion worth of contracts to businesses for City services FY 2013. Of that amount, just 2.7% was awarded to minority and women owned businesses. That’s simply not good enough. Ms. Wallace will be spearheading an initiative I first called for when I was Manhattan Borough President, which is to create a letter grading system for City agencies to measure progress in reaching targets for M/WBE compliance.
Second, we want to make sure that the portfolio companies of our five pension funds understand the importance of diversity in the boardroom, in the procurement process and in the workplace. I am asking Ms. Wallace to work with our corporate governance team to focus in on these areas.
Third, I have asked her to lead an advisory council of internal and external stakeholders on M/WBE issues that will help to guide policy decisions for how we will take on the challenge of increasing M/WBE participation across the City. The issue of M/WBEs is really one of economic justice. The more robust an M/WBE program we have in New York City, the greater the residual effects will be in our communities that have a need for increased economic activity.
Is there a model out there? Is there any city that you look at as a possible model that has done this and done this effectively or is this sort of uncharted territory here?
Stringer: Through the course of our work we will be reaching out to our colleagues around the country to find the best practices that are already in place. My goal is to have New York City be a nationwide leader on the issue of inclusion and encouragement of M/WBE contractors. I’ve given our Chief Diversity Officer a broad mandate to take on issues that municipalities across the nation are facing when it comes to engaging all of our constituencies and to create a set of policies that push the envelope in a very positive direction.