Bertha Lewis, the last CEO and “Chief Organizer” of ACORN before that group’s descent into ignominy, wrote last week that while New York State political corruption is unfortunate, the real problem in New York is MWBE fraud. Companies seeking preferential government contracts put minorities or women forward in order to get bids or tax credits, says Lewis, but these “fronts” deprive real minority businesses of opportunities.
The case Lewis cites involves Skanska, which in 2011 was fined because the construction giant gave $5.6 million to a minority-run business to pretend it was a subcontractor on the Dey Street entrance to the Fulton subway station. The business, which was run by an Indian-American gentleman named Balu Kamat, was not capable of doing the work, though it did in fact get the money. Skanska wound up doing the work itself. In other countries they have different names for this sort of arrangement. Balu Kamat pled guilty to fraud and served two years of probation, including six months under home confinement.
Bertha Lewis, the founder and president of The Black Institute, which operates out of the offices of well-known political consultancy The Advance Group, insists that this sort of fraud is “not a victimless crime,” and that minority “fronts,” or “men-in-skirts” as she calls them, have “blocked the creation of new jobs in communities of color.”
May I remind my readers of a speech that Bertha Lewis gave in 2004, when she stood in front of Brooklyn Community Board 2, and praised Bruce Ratner and his Atlantic Yards development, saying,
we have negotiated what we believe is the real jewel in this crown: not an arena, but a 50/50 housing program, the only program of its type in this country. No other developer has ever committed to 50% of their housing, as of right, which they could do, they could do all market housing.
As Norman Oder of Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Report has pointed out, this claim was entirely false. A large portion of the site was zoned for manufacturing, and required extensive rezoning to allow for any housing, much less the massive towers that Ratner wanted. Bertha Lewis’ job was to provide Forest City Ratner with political cover so he could push ahead with the development, which in any case has scantily delivered on its promises. In fact, by some counts, the current wave of development in downtown Brooklyn has had the effect of destroying far more affordable units than it will ever create.
Bertha Lewis’ whole career has consisted of serving as a front of one sort or another. In her article she demands the creation of an official New York City "Chief Diversity Officer." Surely she has someone close at hand in mind for the job...maybe, Bertha Lewis herself? Certainly, given her PR work for Forest City Ratner, nobody can say she is not well-qualified for the position.