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It’s still the same old story

Boston lacks diversity in the city’s "corridors of power".

Flash Wiley | 10/23/2013, 11:17 a.m.

Why, one might naively ask, is this so? It’s because in order for minorities to get a piece of the pie, the pie has to be cut up differently. Despite what economists might tell you about the growth of a pie once you share it, the folks who currently have all of the pie (white folks) don’t see it that way, and they are competing to get all of the pie all of the time rather than being satisfied with 80 percent or 90 percent. Periodically, when there’s been a new, big pie on the table, Boston’s white establishment has warmed to the idea of using it to cut minorities in on a deal. For one thing, the circumstance allows them to escape the distasteful task of cutting up differently an existing pie.

However, the new big pie projects in Boston like Copley Place, the Big Dig, the Convention Center and the Logan Airport expansion attracted a slew of “promise-them-anything-to-get-the-deal” developers who reneged on their promises to the minority community regarding employment, vendor relationships and nonprofit support. Indeed, the only project that kept its pledge was the hugely successful “Parcel 18” project, a linkage proposal combining the skyscraper at One Lincoln Plaza with development at Ruggles Place. It succeeded because it was created with minorities in the driver’s seat at the outset, in an assured “seat at the table.” Despite its success, the Parcel 18 deal was never replicated nor its mandatory equity tenets encouraged in other development deals (such as the casino). Indeed, the project’s very success doomed its replication.

In truth, our nation was founded on the principles of constructive greed and exploitation, and inducing the “haves” to share with the “have-nots” — even to right past wrongs — is not any easy task. To be open to the idea, one has to be intelligent, enlightened, understanding, compassionate and visionary. Add to those traits the creativity, commitment, determination and persistence to fashion remedial measures and see them through, and the formula for success is set. Unless and until the people cutting up the pie have those traits, a succession of depressing exposés like the CommonWealth report will continue to be written over the years.

Meanwhile, we must continue to note that the problem is not new, and the solutions are not new. It’s still the same old story!

Fletcher H. Wiley is a lawyer, entrepreneur, activist, and political commentator.