Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Getting Clarity On Black Business Inclusion: It's Worth It

My mom used to explain to me, whenever some decision I had made turned out to have an unexpectedly positive outcome, that "God takes care of babies and fools." Whenever she would say that, I would always whisper to myself, "Thank God, I'm a baby."

I thought about my mom's wisdom last Friday night. After what had been a very hectic week, I decided not to go home and "chill," as I really wanted to do, but, instead, I decided, reluctantly, to honor a commitment I had made to participate as an audience member in a new, live broadcast program at WHYY-TV.

The program, called "It's Our City," was to be moderated by political reporter Dave Davies of the Philadelphia Daily News and it was billed as an opportunity to ask Mayor Nutter questions about the Administration's programs -- live and on air. It sounded like it would be fun, but when I made the commitment, I hadn't realized that "show time" was Friday night, at 8:00 pm, and I was "beat."

There were about 150 people at the pre-broadcast reception, most of whom I had never seen before. Sprinkled among them, however, were a few folks that I knew, other "political and civic junkies," who always seem to be invited to things like that.

African-American radio and cable guru Stanley Greene, attorney David Hyman and his wife, Farah Jimenez, Danielle Cohn, who does communications for the Convention and Business Bureau, and who has been pitching in to help with Nutter Administration media relations -- those kinds of people were "in the house."

Overall, however, it seemed to be a typical WHYY audience, i.e., about 5 percent African-American and minority.

When I arrived, I was greeted by two very cordial young women, one of whom mentioned that if I actually wanted to ask a question during the broadcast, I would have to hurry and submit it in writing, because they were about to close out that opportunity for audience members. If I chose to participate, they said, mine would be the last question they would accept for the evening.

…babies and fools.

The program was basically good. The Mayor handled himself as if he had been doing t.v. shows all his life. The only time I "saw him sweat" was when Davies, apparently unexpectedly, hit him with a question about his face-to-face meeting with the last of the three suspects in the Officer Liczbinski shooting. The implication of Davies' question was that, perhaps, the Mayor had "crossed the line" in that confrontation and that the incident may have raised legal questions. From the look on his face, the Mayor didn't really see that one coming.

He recovered quickly, though, explaining that he had not responded at that point as a public official, but as an individual and as a concerned citizen of Philadelphia, who had just lost a "family member," Liczbinski.

Davies seemed to accept that explanation and the Mayor was back in his groove.

Those of us who had signed up to ask questions were asked to sit in the back of the studio, near the microphones, and, finally, the floor manager tapped me on the shoulder and told me I was up next.

By that time, I had sat through about 35 minutes of questions by telephone, e-mail, and in-studio participants. And there had, regrettably, been no expressed interest, up to that point, by any of the questioners, in whether the Administration had a specific plan for bringing true accountability to the City's disastrously ineffective minority business development efforts.

I can't say that I was surprised. True minority business inclusion is a subject that Philadelphians still seem reluctant to bring up "in polite company." That's always been the case.

But, hey, that was precisely the question I showed up to ask, and now it was my turn. In fact, I phrased the question just like this: "Mr. Mayor, businesses owned by African Americans, Hispanics, Asians and white females constitute 59 percent of the city of Philadelphia's 66,000 businesses. Yet, there is evidence that more than 90 percent of municipal contract revenues still flow to businesses owned by white males. That situation makes it difficult for the City's black and minority firms to grow their businesses, hire Philadelphia residents, and contribute to the overall, local economy. Can you elaborate on your Administration's plans to finally bring an effective minority business development effort to our city?"

Without blinking an eye, the Mayor reeled off several major components of an extensive plan he said he is going to introduce shortly on that very subject. He also strongly implied that, as part of the new approach, the City's current, ineffective minority business agency, MBEC, would finally be replaced by a stronger, more accountable entity. He wrapped all of that up with a statement about how the new program would be good, not just for minorities, but for the City's overall economy.

Sounded like "A New Day."

I loved it.

I especially loved the fact that, after more than six months of Administration planning, we seem to be approaching the day, very soon, when minority businesses, including those that produce all types of professional goods and services, will finally be systematically included in opportunities to bid, fairly, on billions of dollars spent by the City government, each year.

As the show concluded, and I headed back to my car, I felt good about the Mayor's statement and anxious to see the details of the new program.

Hey, I was ALMOST happy that I had invested so much of my Friday evening just for the opportunity to get "the question" in.

I think it was worth it. We'll see.


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