A newly formed collaborative of labor and community activists called the New Deal Coalition for Economic Parity and Justice held a community meeting to address a lack of Black inclusion on the Addison Terrace public housing redevelopment.
But the only person who mentioned Addison specifically was Housing Authority Development and Modernization Director P. Nathaniel Boe, who handed out schedules for community meetings, contractor and labor meetings, and contact information for developer Keith B. Keys.
Coalition member Rashad Byrdsong said the point was to get ahead of the project to ensure Black contractors and laborers are included.
After learning that none of the half dozen skilled tradesmen in the audience worked on the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, the August Wilson Center for African American Culture or Freedom Corner, coalition member and African American Workers Union President Calvin Clinton said the perpetual exclusion of Blacks from major projects is an outrage.
He also noted that with the exception of Boe, Allegheny Councilwoman Amanda Green and Pittsburgh Equal Opportunity Review Commission Director Phil Petite, none of the city, county or state elected officials—state Reps. Jake Wheatley and Ed Gainey, Councilmen R. Daniel Lavelle and Rev. Ricky Burgess, state Sen. Jim Ferlo—attended.
“They use our crime rates, poverty and unemployment levels to get tax credits to finance these projects, and we see no return on these tax dollars,” he said. “We have to change that equation.”
Petite said that since questions were raised by the Courier about the accuracy of his office’s reporting on minority inclusion in contracting, he has sent letters to every city department demanding final numbers on all contracts issued to MWDBEs.
“If they fail to comply, we will not approve any future plans submitted by the contractors involved,” he said. “But I can only do that for city departments. I cannot make the authorities give me final numbers.”
Green said she is working with fellow Councilman Bill Robinson on legislation to review and enforce county MWDBE contracting goals.
But while Byrdsong and coalition member Khalid Raheem, director of the National Council for Urban Peace and Justice, spoke of inclusion in major civic projects for the Black community and inspiring the next generation with visions of a working community, the contractors, developers and entrepreneurs in the audience said that won’t happen unless Blacks have skin in the game.
“You need to put your money where your mouth is,” said developer Irv Williams. “If you want to get folks you want on a job, you have to change the language of these (project labor agreements) with the unions. I was able to do that because ‘he who has the gold makes the rules.’”
Contractor Jack Reynolds agreed and grew impatient with calls for politicians and agencies to help.
“Go ahead, let them certify you. They’ll still say, you want a Black contractor—find me one,” he said. “I’ve heard this bulls_t for 20 years. They’re not going to have minority participation.”
When Petite urged contractors to come up with their own development plans and submit them, Francine Cameron, who has her own professional services firm, said she has done just that bidding to be the controller for the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority.
“You don’t always have to be the subcontractor. You can be the prime,” she said. “I have the skill set, I was an auditor for Deloitte & Touche, an analyst for PNC, I’m a CPA and I have an MBA. I’m doing it. I’m the only M/WBE bidding for the job.”
Louis “Hop” Kendrick agreed with Cameron, Williams and Reynolds, but said politicians have to be held accountable.
When he was the MWDBE director for Republican County Commissioners Larry Dunn and Bob Cranmer, one developer who had won a $38 million contract, told him he wasn’t going to hire any Black subs or labor because he didn’t have to.
“So I said okay, and I went and told Larry what the guy said, and Larry said, ‘rescind the contract’ and we did. An hour later, he was back saying he didn’t mean it,” he said. “We need the county executive and the mayor to make this happen. Your next meeting needs to be in (County Executive Rich) Fitzgerald’s office. You need to be in (Mayor Luke) Ravenstahl’s office.”
There was no word from the coalition on when or where their next meeting will be held.