Maura In The News

DNC deal to include three black businesses
By Andrea Estes and Kevin Joy, Globe Staff and Globe Correspondent, 1/29/2004

Hoping to head off criticism over its minority contracting practices, organizers of the Democratic National Convention yesterday announced that a major construction contract will include three prominent local black businesses.

The $3.5 million contract, the largest awarded for the convention so far, was given to Boston-based Shawmut Design and Construction to oversee the transformation of the FleetCenter into a national stage set, organizers said yesterday. The $350 million company will team up with three minority enterprises: the architectural firm Primary Group, SAR Engineering, and Bruce Bolling, executive director of the Massachusetts Alliance of Small Contractors, who be a consultant to bring in minority- and women-owned subcontractors.

The announcement was made as two city councilors, Chuck Turner and Felix Arroyo, called for a hearing into steps being taken to hire minority firms and as a black activist threatened to hold a press conference outside convention headquarters to protest the committee's "deliberate exclusion of the community of color."

Convention organizers dismissed the complaints, saying that most minority leaders in Boston are happy with their hiring efforts. But it was the first controversy on the sensitive topic of minority participation, and officials rushed to announce the construction contract a day before they had planned, issuing a statement that included praise from several minority leaders.

"The Democratic Convention has kept its promise to include every community across Boston at this convention," said Lina Garcia, spokeswoman for committee. "Today's announcement is just another example of the DNC keeping that promise."

The criticism of minority hiring practices began earlier this week, when activist Sadiki Kambon, director of the Black Community Information Center, told media outlets that he was planning to gather elected officials and other community leaders outside convention headquarters today to condemn the committee for denying minorities "the economic benefits to be derived" from the mammoth political event.

Reached yesterday, Kambon confirmed that on Tuesday he submitted an unsolicted proposal to the DNC that his group, The Umoja Coalition for Our Fair Share, be hired as a liaison to the minority community for $181,000. Yesterday he offered to cancel the press conference if the convention organizers would meet with him. Convention officials said they declined and did not respond to his request for a contract. Kambon said he planned to go ahead with the press conference.

Kambon said Arroyo, Turner, and City Councilor Charles Yancey would attend the event. But only Turner indicated yesterday that he would. At yesterday's City Council meeting, however, the three councilors, along with Councilor at Large Maura A. Hennigan, said a hearing is needed to ensure that women- and minority-owned businesses are "given due consideration" in the awarding of contracts.

"There's the same old rhetoric about inclusion, without any significant follow through," Turner said after the meeting. He said the request for a hearing had no connection to Kambon's press conference, but addded that Kambon's situation is a symptom of potential problems. "These are the same patterns we have seen in the past where people of color seem to [be considered] second."

Arroyo said that the minority community should reach an "understanding" with convention organizers over "who is going to be employed and to have the proper percentages of people of color and women."

Minority share of convention work has been a touchy subject since Democratic leaders announced that Boston would host the event a year ago. Party officials had worried that Boston's racially divided past could haunt the convention, and Mayor Thomas M. Menino vowed to showcase a diverse city before the eyes of the nation. He pledged that much of the convention's bounty would go to minority businesses.

? Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.

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