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NAACP Questions Wilder in Minority Contract Dispute

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The state NAACP is stepping into the dust-up between Mayor L. Douglas Wilder and minority contracting consultant Al Bowers Jr. about who controls the minority contracting work in the Miller & Rhoads hotel project.

King Salim Khalfani, executive director of the state NAACP, sent a letter to the mayor dated Nov. 27 lauding Bowers' firm, BFE Consulting, and requesting statistics on how much the city spends on "procurement, contracts and professional services with minority businesses."

BFE Consulting acts as minority business consultant to big construction contractors. It has a contract with Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. to provide and manage minority construction firms for the $100 million hotel and condominium project.

In July, however, Wilder's office issued a statement declaring that Bowers' firm was "not involved as intermediary for contractors interested in the Hilton hotel project." In a press release, the city encouraged all minority contractors interested in working on the project to contact the city's Office of Minority Business Development.

Khalfani wants to know why the city is injecting itself into a private business affair. "I would have hoped that our mayor wouldn't be participating in anything of that nature," he says, "That would be a cesspool of corruption."

Wilder responded to Khalfani as well as Frances Robinson, president of the Richmond chapter of the NAACP, in a letter of his own dated Dec. 1.

"Where was the NAACP's concern for the people when the bus fares were raised or the public discussion for the need for affordable housing recently reached a crescendo?" Wilder wrote. "I am sure that you must have overlooked articulating these concerns in your haste to outline the agenda of those who can afford not to be preoccupied by such bread and butter issues as food, transportation and housing."

Wilder spokesman Linwood Norman says Khalfani's request for procurement data — the NAACP also requested how much the city spends on advertising in local newspapers, including Style — is "under consideration."

Bowers declines to address the dispute. "As far as I am concerned, we have a contract," he says. "We're not politicians. Other than that, we've got business to do."

Construction on the Miller & Rhoads project, which will include a Hilton hotel and condos on the upper floors, is expected to begin this month. S

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