Hispanic Commerce Group Continues to Pressure City Council and Speaker Quinn With Rally Outside City Hall

Categories: Protest
hispanic_business_rally.jpg
Jason Lewis/ Village Voice
Representatives from the New York State Coalition of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce voiced their outrage on the steps of City Hall yesterday over a proposed bill that would lower procurement goals for Hispanic-owned businesses bidding for city work.

Earlier this month, the city announced revisions to Local Law 129, which was created in 2005 to increase the number of Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprises that secure contracts to perform work for the city. The bill would lift the $1 million contract-limit currently in place for program participants, and it would implement better support systems for M/WBE's .

But those in attendance at yesterday's rally are fuming over a portion of the bill that reduces procurement goals for Hispanic construction firms from nine percent to four percent.

And, as the Voice previously reported, these groups are promising to use their influence within the Hispanic community to campaign against any politicians who vote for or support the bill.

"I can assure you that any Councilman, who supports this bill, that comes to the Latino community, will face a very angry constituency, inside their district and outside of their district," Peter Fontanes, head of the New York Association of Hispanics in Real Estate and Construction, said at the news conference. "Anybody thinking of running for mayor who votes for this bill and supports this bill, I can assure they will not get our support. And, we will campaign against them actively."

The scene outside of City Hall probably didn't appear all that intimidating to political passersby -- including City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Mayor Michael Bloomberg -- as the rally only consisted of maybe ten or so chamber presidents and a few other supporters.

But, Fontanes and other NYSCHCC members insist that they have sway within the Hispanic community, and explained before-hand that they intended for only chamber presidents to show up for the news conference. The coalition has 25 chambers with more than 25,000 Hispanic-owned businesses, according NYSCHCC Chairman Frank Garcia.

Garcia said chamber members are prepared to plaster bodegas, restaurants and other establishments with signs that read "No 4 percent" along with the names of politicians who support the bill.

Fontanes said he doesn't want the situation to be contentious. He just wants the administration and city council to sit down with his chambers and discuss the parameters of the bill.

"At least bring it back to the nine percent, and then we can start talking from there," Fontanes said. "The bill is a good bill, but we have a deal breaker, and that is the participation goal at four percent. One of the reasons it cannot stand is that we don't why and how they got the methodology to get it that low."

The methodology used to generate the four percent mark comes from a disparity study conducted by an outside consulting firm hired to generate data for the original M/WBE Local Law 129 passed in 2005. Percentage goals are determined by calculating the number of firms qualified to do work versus the number of those firms that actually receive contracts with the city.

The Hispanic business community expressed outrage over the now defunct requirement that Hispanic business-owners sign an affidavit proving their ethnicity before getting certified to do work for the city -- a requirement that no other minority businesses had to fulfill. Garcia thinks that's a big reason why more qualified Hispanic construction firms weren't available for work.

Representatives from Speaker Quinn's office declined to comment, but directed us to testimony from two Hispanic business leaders who voiced their support of the bill at the Oct. 4 City Council hearing on the bill.

"Our association would not be supporting this legislation if we believed this bill would be detrimental to New York's Hispanic M/WBE's. This is what a few Hispanic groups are alleging at this hearing and this is simply not the case," said Alfred Placeres, president of the New York State Federation of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, in his testimony.

"Yes, the percentage goal for Latino Businesses will decrease from 8% to %4 but this decrease will in fact translate into an increase in Hispanic participation because the City's procurement pie is increasing substantially," the testimony says. "For Hispanics, this change significantly increases the value from $28 million to over $80 million."

NYSCHCC contends that the removal of the $1 million cap will likely mean more money for a few Latino firms, but less for the majority. At yesterday's rally Garcia questioned the validity of the Hispanic representatives who supported the bill.

"We represent 25 real chambers. I want to emphasize real. We had recently, Gregory Myers from the Mayor's office say 'I had a couple of chambers that wrote for this law,' Garcia said. "They're not a member of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. We are."

Garcia also says that the other Hispanic organization that throw its support behind the bill, the Latino Builders Council, was just recently formed. And the last time he checked, it wasn't even officially incorporated yet.

The reverend Carmen Hernandez, president of the New York City LGBT Chamber of Commerce, who spoke at the rally said she supports Christine Quinn, but urges Quinn and other Council Members to invite more of the Hispanic business community to the negotiating table.

"When they needed us we're the first ones there to support them," Hernandez said. "Now we're asking them to come support us."


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