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Federal Complaint Filed Against Boston Over Lack Of Contracts With Black- And Brown-Owned Businesses

Boston City Hall. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Boston City Hall. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Local Black and Latinx organizations filed a federal discrimination complaint against the city of Boston on Wednesday, alleging its contracting system discriminates against businesses owned by people of color.

The Black Economic Council of Massachusetts (BECMA), the Greater Boston Latino Network, and Amplify Latinx filed the complaint to the federal departments of justice and transportation in response to a city study that found that from 2014 to 2019, only 1.2% of its nearly $2.2 billion worth of public contacts went to Black- and Latino-owned businesses.

"This is in a city where Black people make up almost a quarter of the population," said Segun Idowu, the head of BECMA, during a virtual news conference. "The retort that we have often heard from this city, from the Walsh administration and from any detractors is that Black- and other minority-owned businesses can't be found, or we're not ready or we're not fit to do the job. But this report, which the city commissioned, shows us the complete opposite is true."

A spokesperson for Mayor Marty Walsh said the city had not seen the complaint and therefore could not comment. Walsh, who has been tapped to be President Biden's labor secretary, is expected to introduce measures to send more city contracts to businesses owned by people of color. But Idowu said he'd prefer working with the soon-to-be-interim administration.

"We'll look forward to working with acting-mayor Kim Janey who has shown, over her tenure as city councilor and city council president, that this is an issue that she deeply cares about," Idowu said. "It affects her community and her constituents, so we'll look to her bold leadership to address this and not any weak executive orders that come from this administration."

The complaint seeks “immediate federal intervention and oversight to compel the city to enact race-conscious measures to break down the discriminatory barriers to equitable contracting opportunities,” as well as a “community-driven remediation process.”

Rosario Ubiera-Minaya, who heads Amplify Latinx, said the goal is to address systemic racism in Boston's economic ecosystem.

"This is moving us away from disparities that we've seen and antiquated discriminatory practices," Ubiera-Minaya said. "The goal of this action is to really facilitate access to all.

With reporting from WBUR's Quincy Walters and The Associated Press

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