The latest session of the Joint Committee on Economic Justice and Equal Opportunity was virtual, but the message of Thursday’s meeting stayed the same: Economic opportunity is the key to making real change in the state.
John Harmon, the well-respected head of the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, made that clear.
“This is a binding moment for those who say they represent our interests to demonstrate it in a way that is impacting inequities: the high impact of poverty, high unemployment, lack of public contracts, lack of a disparity study being completed,” he told the committee.
The committee, formed by state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge), is chaired by Sen. Ron Rice (D-Newark).
It has met sparingly — but, most notably in January, when Jacob Walthour, co-founder and CEO of Blueprint Capital Advisors, gave a blistering account of the economic realities of Black and white residents of New Jersey.
Walthour, who filed a suit against the state regarding financial opportunities for minority- and women-owned firms on state contracts in June, spoke again Thursday.
“I assume that our presence was requested today because of our well-publicized federal lawsuit filed against Gov. Murphy and his Division of Investment,” he said. “I believe it is the largest discrimination case ever filed in the state of New Jersey and one that I filed after tremendous pain and suffering by members of the Division of Investment and the Department of Treasury, who have attempted to shut me up through economic retaliation and humiliation, and now they are attempting to cover up their quid pro quo system of operating and the racial animus that underlies their treatment of Blueprint.”
The suit, Walthour said, is at the core of the issue.
“If this administration is not willing to address the state’s Black population with honesty and integrity and provide resources and solutions to address the imbalances and disparities, why should I think that he would ever bring himself to help Blueprint or any other Black-owned firm?” he said. “(Murphy) hasn’t hired one Black to work in the Division of Investment, and it hasn’t had a black investment officer in over 10 years. Despite legislation, signed into law by him, that mandates the DOI to invest with minority-owned firms, he hasn’t hired one black-owned firm in three years.”
Harmon and Walthour said they hope the findings from the joint committee will lead to legislation requiring more transparency and integrity regarding the hiring of minority- and women-owned business enterprises.