City attorney tells black business leaders how to gain a voice

Friday, May 20, 2003 01:34:48
By: Chauncey Bailey, STAFF WRITER - Section: Local News

John Russo encourages local entrepreneurs to 'get more active and raise funds'

OAKLAND � To increase clout at City Hall, African-American business owners should put more pressure on council members and contribute financially to political campaigns, City Attorney John Russo told a group of minority entrepreneurs.

"You have to get people down to City Council meetings and squeeze the politicians ... and (to gain more access) get more active and raise funds. Money talks," Russo said. "It stinks ... but that's the world (of politics)."

Russo, a candidate for the state Assembly, made his remarks during a luncheon Wednesday at Geoffery's Inner Circle in downtown Oakland, a longtime venue for African-American community organizing. The program was hosted by the Oakland Black Board of Trade and Commerce.

The meeting was called to give African-American business owners more information about city policies, procedures and priorities.

Many African-Americans have been concerned about their lack of access to public contracts and a rollback in affirmative action or minority set-aside agreements since the passage in 1996 of Proposition 209, which banned the awarding of state contracts based on race or gender.

Russo said "the city is obligated to do diversity studies every two years ... but there's very little that can be done" due to other legal decisions if it's determined racial minorities are not getting a fair share of contracts.

Further, in 2003, due to budget cuts, the city's Office of Contract Compliance which monitors the use of small, local subcontractors by larger firms � had its staff reduced from 19 to 10.

Russo said his office has saved the city $10 million over the last three fiscal years by reducing the number of settlements and cutting back on payments to outside attorneys from an annual rate of $2.7 million to $1.5 million although that will rise next fiscal year to $2 million.

In addition to dozens of business owners, among those at the meeting were Elihu Harris, former mayor and now chancellor for the Peralta Community College District; Michael Baines, a prominent housing developer; and Andrea Lowe, director, community affairs, Turner Construction Co.

Michael Carter, chairman of the board for Black Wall Street Merchants Association (, which represents 70 African-Americanh businesses along International Boulevard from 45th Avenue to the San Leandro line, said his organization would work with the Oakland Black Board of Trade and Commerce "to help us gain contracts, get more exposure and bring more black businesses to International Boulevard."

Black Wall Street Merchants Association
The Black Wall Street Merchants Association is a not-for profit enterprise that serves as an advocate for commerce in the African American community, that promotes ethics, and that seeks to preserve the economic growth, social and cultural vitality of the community. Since its founding in 1999, it has served as an effective business and social networking organization. It seeks to establish and maintain good working relations with African American, Churches, organizations and businesses from 50th Avenue to 109th Avenue Bound by International Boulevard In Oakland. The BWS Merchants Association's Work Plan is based on service and advocacy. Ensure member's investment is returned in direct services that promote, market, and support the districts and individual businesses. Advocate effectively for the implementation of the policies essential to the continued revitalization. Press & Media Team, www.