The state NAACP is threatening to sue the city if it doesn't resolve a massive lawsuit with a well-known minority contractor and improve minority participation in taxpayer-funded construction projects. It also is considering a similar lawsuit against the state.
“It's an abomination because black businesses are going under,” King Salim Khalfani, executive director of the state NAACP, told a small gathering of reporters in front of City Hall this morning. “All we want is our fair share. We have some people to hold accountable.”
Specifically, Khalfani says minority construction contractors across the city were suffering as a result of an unresolved, $205 million lawsuit filed by Al Bowers Jr. against former Mayor L. Douglas Wilder and the city.
The lawsuit, filed in September 2007, alleges that Wilder and city officials conspired against Bowers' construction and consulting company, Bowers Family Enterprises, to run them out of business. In 2007, the suit alleges, Wilder went so far as to contact an executive with the development firm renovating the old Miller & Rhoads department store into hotel and condos. Wilder, the suit alleges, told the executive that Bowers was “bad news” and needed to be removed from the project.
The $205 million lawsuit is slated for trial in August.
The Bowers case, Khalfani says, is just the tip of the iceberg. He says the previous administration intentionally blocked minority contractors from doing business with the city, and the state's record of awarding procurement contracts to minority firms has been abysmal. Minority-owned businesses, according to a disparity study completed in 2004, receive less than a penny for every dollar in the state procurement budget.
The NAACP doesn't have a specific timetable for a possible lawsuit, Khalfani says, adding that he understands Mayor Dwight C. Jones is receptive to improving minority participation. Khalfani, however, says time is of the essence. Wilder did so much to hurt minority contractors that many are on the verge of going out of business in the current economic downturn, he says.
“God bless he is gone,” Khalfani says of Wilder. “He has destroyed black businesses in this city. … Mayor Jones is aware of this. They know they have some things to do.”