Boston Abolishes Affirmative Action Contracting Program

Mon February 24, 2003 - National Edition

BOSTON (AP) Mayor Thomas M. Menino has abolished an affirmative action program that gave preferences to minority and women-owned businesses in awarding city contracts.

Menino said the 25-year-old Minority and Women Business Enterprise program is unlikely to withstand a court challenge and issued an executive order recently giving contracting preferences to “small and local-owned businesses.”

“It’s unfortunate that in cities across the country programs similar to Boston’s MWBE program are being struck down,” Menino said, in a written statement. “But I am proud that our mission of encouraging business development will continue through our new Small and Local Enterprise Program. The [program] will help us make sure that the economic opportunities we have are open to all.’

But city black political leaders said Menino’s move came as a surprise. They criticized him for failing to defend the program and meet its goals.

“It’s premature for the administration to abandon the city’s commitment to assuring that all people can participate on a level playing field — particularly in light of the horrendous disparities in prime contracting based on race and gender,” Councilor Charles C. Yancey told the Boston Herald.

The program was scrapped by executive order, even after the release of a private city-funded study showing that African-American and Asian contractors and women-owned businesses are suffering discrimination in the awarding of city contracts.

That study completed last in January by Mason Tillman Associates concluded that the city should “implement both race conscious and race neutral policies to increase contracting opportunities for minority and women business enterprise.”

The study showed that African-Americans were prime contractors on just 1.3 percent of $332.2 million in city contracts awarded in 1999, 2000 and 2001. African-American contractors represent 10 percent of available firms, the study said.

Firms owned by white males, representing 75 percent of available firms, received 95.6 percent of the prime construction contracts.

“We can’t afford to have the mayor defang programs to strengthen the positions of people of color in this city without any public dialogue,” Councilor Chuck Turner said.