O'Malley pledges more minority contracts

Maryland Votes 2006


LARGO -- Mayor Martin O'Malley pledged yesterday that as governor he would increase state government work awarded to minorities and criticized his Republican rival's commitment to Maryland's set-aside program for public contracts.

Spokesmen for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. responded by saying the Republican incumbent has reformed the state's minority business program and that the Democratic mayor has no credibility on the issue because Baltimore's efforts have been rife with corruption.

The promotion of records on minority inclusion reflects the campaigns' desires to win support among black and women voters, political observers said.

O'Malley and his running mate, Del. Anthony Brown of Prince George's County, toured the Boulevard at the Capital Centre here to talk to minority business owners and acted as host for a discussion with entrepreneurs at Carolina Kitchen.

"We will be an administration that is truly committed to minority business development," O'Malley said in a speech after the luncheon.

O'Malley said city government contracts awarded to minority firms have doubled during his tenure: from $44.7 million in 2000 -- or 14 percent of eligible city contracts -- to $93.4 million in 2005, or 31 percent.

The city's goal is 35 percent. O'Malley has faced scrutiny over this figure because the goal is a percentage of only eligible, not all, city contracts -- not counting those contracts in which no minority firms are qualified or capable to perform the work. When counted against all contracts, the percentage is far lower.

Noting a report by the National Economic Research Associates, O'Malley said the percentage of state contracts awarded to minority firms has decreased from 17 percent in 2001 to 14.79 percent in 2006. He also said that African-American participation in state contracts also fell while the availability of black-owned firms increased. The state's goal is to award 25 percent of all state contracts to minorities.

Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell and Sharon Pinder, Ehrlich's special secretary for minority affairs, said the report O'Malley used was not accurate. They said minority participation has increased from 15.6 percent in fiscal 2003 to 21 percent in fiscal 2005.

O'Malley went on to highlight comments made by Ehrlich in 2005 that Democrats said were insensitive. Last year, Comptroller William Donald Schaefer asked at a Board of Public Works meeting whether the minority set-aside program should end.

Ehrlich responded by saying: "Do you want the legal answer, or the political answer? ... Race politics is ugly. ... It needs to end, we know that." The governor also once called the concept of multiculturalism "bunk."

Fawell said yesterday that Ehrlich is committed to the set-aside program and that his comments reflected his belief that the program will cease once its goal of rectifying discrimination is attained.

But O'Malley used the comments to contrast himself with Ehrlich, saying he did not consider multiculturalism "bunk."

O'Malley and Brown said they would establish more aggressive goals to increase participation, track efforts every month in all departments, and work to improve the process by which firms are certified as being minority-owned.

Audra Miller, a Maryland GOP spokeswoman, said O'Malley lacks credibility on the topic because the city is under a state investigation into minority contractors tied to City Council President Sheila Dixon.doug.donovan@baltsun.com

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