The East Elmhurst Corona Alliance protests at LaGuardia Airport.
BY ARIEL HERNANDEZ
In a series of recent protests at LaGuardia Airport, clergy leaders called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Port Authority to include more Minority and Woman-Owned Business Enterprises (M/WBEs) in the $8 billion transformation of the airport.
Protests were held at the airport on Nov. 22 and 27 and clergy leaders said that they intended to hold another around Christmas.
Reverend Johnnie Green, founding president of Mobilizing Preachers and Community (MPAC), organized the protest following attempts to gain a seat at the table to discuss the inclusion of minority businesses in the procurement of prime contracts.
Green told the PRESS of Southeast Queens that, for three years, he has petitioned the Cuomo administration on the LaGuardia Airport expansion project due to the state’s failure to increase minority business participation.
Green met with Richard Kennedy—president and CEO of Skanska USA Buildings, a lead partner in the project—who told Green that the 30 percent M/WBE goal for the project is being met. However, according to Greene, when he requested a breakdown, it took a year to receive a response, which did not include detailed information on M/WBE inclusion. With the support of clergy leaders and organizations throughout New York, Greene sent the response from Kennedy to the governor’s office, but did not receive a response.
Bishop Mitchell Taylor, vice president of MPAC and a Long Island City pastor, told the Tribune that protesters took a knee and said a prayer at LaGuardia Airport.
“Hearts would be more in line with expanding contracting opportunities at prime and subprime levels for minority and women entrepreneurs,” said Taylor. “But to see a project grow to $8 billion in scope without transparency relative to who is awarded to work there and the true M/WBE participation there is troubling. We’re not asking for anything from the state. We just want the ability to have a seat at the table to talk about possible opportunities before those opportunities are gone.”
Taylor said that deals for the LaGuardia reconstruction project had been sealed prior to the project going public.
“It is public land, so the public should be a part of it,” said Taylor.
Among the contracts that protesters are questioning include concession stands in the terminals, electronic shops, convenience stores and newsstands.
“These are opportunities that the local public in greater Queens and the entire city should have access to,” said Taylor. “We have a lot of questions about that process and we would like some answers. Our local entrepreneurs want to be part of the project. We’re not asking for anything except the opportunity to bid on everything.”
Green recently sent a list of demands to Cuomo’s office, which includes the names of hundreds of black and minority-owned businesses that the state recommended for the project; a request that 25 of the 500 construction management slots be awarded to black, Hispanic and Asian partners, of which six should be upper management; more diversity on the Port Authority’s board; and a meeting with Cuomo and MPAC.
Green said that until those demands are met, demonstrations will continue at LaGuardia Airport as well as airports throughout the state that are also undergoing renovations, such as Syracuse and Rochester.
This past week’s protests also gave residents of East Elmhurst and community leaders the opportunity to complain of the upgrade’s inconvenience on the local community.
“This project has been one of the most underreported items in the borough of Queens,” former state Sen. Hiram Monserrate told the PRESS of Southeast Queens.
Monserrate said that the 6:30 a.m. starting time for construction each day has disrupted residents in the neighborhood. As a result of the airport’s project, residents have been tormented by pollution, noise, traffic and cracks in the walls of their homes caused by shaking.
“I believe that, at this point, as the coalition gets stronger the actions will be greater,” said Monserrate, who lives a few blocks from the airport. “This has been another example of a large-scale project that has delivered very little to the community.”
In a statement, the governor’s office called the M/WBE program at the LaGuardia upgrade “successful.”
“The state has nearly tripled M/WBE contracts and briefed the community and local elected officials on this project more than a dozen times,” the statement read. “If this coalition wants to spread misinformation, that’s on them, but we are proud of the most successful M/WBE program in the country.”
According to the governor’s office, more than $389 million in contracts have been awarded to M/WBEs through February 2017, with black, Latino and Asian-owned businesses having won 70 percent of those contracts.
Reach Ariel Hernandez at (718) 357-7400 x144, firstname.lastname@example.org or @reporter_ariel.