At-large D.C. Councilmember Vincent Orange took to the steps of the Wilson Building this morning with a message: The District’s small businesses are getting hosed. Backed by labor and business heavies, as well as three other councilmembers, Orange accused Vince Gray‘s administration of ignoring laws requiring city agencies to spend a certain percentage of their budgets on contracts with small businesses.
Orange followed up the rally at this afternoon’s Council meeting, passing a ceremonial “Sense of the Council” resolution calling on Gray to follow the law, which was opposed only by Councilmember David Grosso. Orange and his supporters claim the Gray administration is delinquent on $1 billion that should have been spent with certified Small Business Enterprises.
“You’ve got 63 cranes out here in this city,” Orange said at the Council meeting. “Everyone’s enjoying the prosperity, except for the citizens of the District of Columbia.”
That $1 billion figure gave Orange the name for his event—-the”Where’s the $1 Billion Rally.” At the protest, Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry led the crowd in a chant: “Tell Vince Gray/’Where is the money?'”
If any of the contractors chanting with Barry did ask Gray, he’d likely say that the money had ended up in their pockets already. Mayoral staffers accuse Orange of using inaccurate figures from D.C. Auditor reports to consider whether SBE goals had been met, with Gray chief of staff Chris Murphy going so far as to call Orange’s complaints “a hoax.”
“The $1 billion figure is not a true picture,” Gray spokeswoman Doxie McCoy says.
McCoy and Murphy concede that agencies lagged behind their SBE spending goals in the 2011 and 2012 fiscal years—-for a total of $335 million. But figures from the Gray administration show agencies slightly exceeding their SBE spending in fiscal year 2013. It’s impossible to know whether agencies will hit their targets for the 2014 fiscal year, since agencies don’t have to report their final SBE figures until next spring.
Asked about Gray staffers’ criticism of his figures, Orange says he’s sticking with the numbers from the auditor’s office.
Photo by Will Sommer