The Willets Point Industry and Realty Association, the group of business owners who control more than 53% of the privately held land in Willets Point that the Bloomberg administration wants to seize via eminent domain abuse, responded to yesterday's announcement by the EDC that minorities, women and Queens residents will play a major role in the city's redevelopment of the area.
"Women and minority business owners know that yesterday's announcement by Helen Marshall and Deputy Mayor Robert Lieber – two people who won't even be in office in about 16 months – is just another phony photo op. It's like George Bush proclaiming "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq all those years ago – a wild exaggeration that only misled the American public. Trust me, we are not going to be fooled by Marshall and Lieber anymore," said Irene Presti, WPIRA member.
WPIRA maintains if the Bloomberg administration really wanted to help women and minority owned businesses, it would provide the municipal services (sewers, street lights, sidewalks) that have been intentionally withheld for decades so the area could revitalize on its own. The cost-effective solution to redevelop Willets Point would maintain and expand good jobs. Instead, the City is determined to steal the businesses and land, thus destroying the jobs of thousands of working families for a development scheme that will never happen.
Neil Soni, Vice President of House of Spices in Willets Point said, "As a certified Minority-and-Women-Owned Business Enterprise (M/WBE), I find today's announcement yet another betrayal by an administration that continues to try to pit one group of New Yorkers against another. This divide-and-conquer strategy will fail miserably because it is so transparent and comes from an administration with an appalling record on these issues. But even worse, this administration makes promises like they have already seized our private property through eminent domain. Deal with us first, fairly, honestly and like professionals—then make your promises. Only then can this be taken seriously."
Presti points out an article in the Village Voice on June 10, 2008 which reported that the City has failed miserably to provide opportunities for women and minority businesses. In the article, Commissioner Robert W. Walsh, who has run the New York City Department of Small Business Services since Bloomberg took office, conceded that he hasn't had a single meeting with the mayor to discuss the M/WBE program since the new law went into effect in late 2005. He also acknowledged that, from the beginning of the administration, his conversations with Bloomberg about aiding small businesses "had not been focused on gender or race." Asked if they'd ever had a conversation in which Bloomberg gave him "a sense of how important an MWBE program was to him," Walsh replied: "I don't want to put words in anybody's mouth. I can't remember a conversation like that."
"We agree with Betsy Gotbaum, whose investigations have found that the City just isn't getting the job done for women and minority businesses," said Irene Presti. "We also agree with State Senate Bill Perkins, who has spoken out forcefully about the City administration's failure to even acknowledge its failures in this program."
Pictured: The Soni Brothers' House of Spices was founded in 1970 on a corner in Jackson Heights. House of Spices now has nine distribution centers around the Unites States with a total of 500,000 square feet of space distributing to the ethnic markets as well as to mainstream markets. They are major landholders at Willets Point and the city is threatening to take away their business via eminent domain. Their American Dream has turned into a nightmare.