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Study would put numbers to job disparity

Alberto Cappas remembers agitating with other blacks and Latinos as a University of Buffalo student in the 1960s to “elect people that looked like us” in the belief that it would “do more for our communities.”

Nearly a half century later, with an African-American mayor and black and Latino Common Council members, the chairman of the Puerto Rican Committee for Community Justice calls it “a crying shame” they still have to protest.

Lesley Haynes recalled a recent reprint of a Buffalo News front page from that same era, which contained a story about a meeting to improve race relations.

“How far have we come, or how far have we not come in that time?” the BUILD of Buffalo board member wondered aloud to a Council committee.

Cappas and Haynes were among a handful of activists appearing before Council members to decry economic disparities amid a demand for one tool the city has long resisted, even as parts of Buffalo thrive: a disparity study to document where people of color are being shortchanged and give legal cover to more aggressive efforts to remedy the inequities.

“If we have the empirical tools and facts,” the city can help the East Side and Lower West Side prosper like Canalside, Hertel Avenue and Elmwood Avenue, said BUILD President Charley H. Fisher III. BUILD led the demonstration outside the SolarCity project a few weeks ago to protest the fact that a 25 percent minority hiring goal trumpeted early on was later lowered to 15 percent. A subsequent Investigative Post look at state data revealed that the city’s predominant minority group – African-Americans – accounted for only 5.7 percent of workers hired so far.

Doing the long-sought disparity study would give the city more legal leverage to try to eliminate such inequities, but money has always been an issue – or excuse – with estimates that such a study could cost up to $500,000. Advocates said they learned from one expert that Rochester did such a study for only about $70,000 by taking advantage of existing data.

However, the expert cited said he knew only of a New York State study, and that a good study probably would cost $200,000 to $300,000.

Still, it would be “well worth the money,” said H. Todd Bullard, a lawyer at Harris Beach in Rochester with expertise in diversity compliance. Bullard said such a study also would provide justification for workforce goals, which the state claims it cannot enforce now, calling even the 15 percent target merely “aspirational.”

Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans and other people of color have aspirations, too. Chuck Simmons, a math teacher at the Outsource Center job training program on the East Side, reeled off a litany of all-too-familiar statistics about poverty, incarceration and unemployment rates in Buffalo’s minority neighborhoods. “This is 2015, this is not 1956,” Simmons said. “This is not down South.”

As Mayor Byron W. Brown and Council members ponder whether to fund the disparity study in the 2016 budget, they also should ponder the cost of those pathologies.

In the scope of everything Buffalo is trying to become – and in the context of a $493 million budget – how much is equal opportunity worth?