“If the state takes over the airport, it will be devastating to black contractors. That was the lynchpin of Maynard Jackson’s building of the black community. It started at the airport.” – Margaret Muhammad
Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport -The South’s #1 economic engine - is under threat of a takeover by Republican legislators, and both the Georgia Black Constructors Association (GBCA) and Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore vehemently vow their number one priority is to stop that from happening.
“The airport is so important, and black people must understand if you don’t raise your voice on this issue you can forget it,” says Margaret Muhammad, GBCA’s president.
That’s why Muhammad is calling for elected officials, business owners and concerned citizens to join her for a noon luncheon meeting on Thursday, September 13th at The Allen Conference Center for what the GBCA is calling “the hostile takeover” of Atlanta’s Hartsfield -Jackson Airport.
Muhammad has the strident support of her politically savvy and combative City Council President Moore. “The city is in trouble,” she laments. “One of my top concerns is making sure we maintain the airport.”
Recently a state study committee began exploring the idea of an airport authority to control and operate Hartsfield-Jackson. One hearing has already been held to discuss the possibility. Both Moore and Muhammad were there to push-back against the political grab of the world’s busiest airport.
“We’re going to give a report on the status of this outside authority, and we’re going to discuss where we need to go as a group from here,” says Muhammad about her upcoming GBCA Expo news conference. “The airport is extremely important to the economics of our community. It does not just affect us as black builders. It’s going to unalterably disrupt our lifestyle, and black people need to understand that.”
Moore says, “My take away from what I heard at the first study committee was the ground-work was set because of the Atlanta (City Hall) corruption scandal. That was a focus and so the foundation and the environment has been created to make it [the takeover] happen.
“I think their discussion is, corruption is the environment which makes sense for us to have this discussion; contracting is the unsaid thing. We know it’s about money. It’s always about money; you know owning the golden goose.”
Hartsfield Atlanta Airport opened under Mayor Maynard Jackson’s first term as Atlanta’s first African American mayor. During the construction, he demanded 25 to 35 percent minority participation.
“The airport has just been a boon for black contractors,” a veteran African American airport contractor, who requested anonymity, tells this reporter. “It’s been a boon for the city of Atlanta, the business community in general, and billions of dollars have gone to majority contractors over the years.
“That was only 25 to 35% of the contracts, what about the other 65% of billions of dollars,” he continues. “It’s not just African American contractors anymore.
“I think African American contracting opportunities have diminished over the years and primarily because it’s no longer as much of a priority for black elected officials as it once was,” disapprovingly adds the politically connected contractor.
When asked her opinion on the current economic condition of African American builders, Moore replies, “It could be a lot better. The problem that I would see is that those people who had those first opportunities to build [that Maynard Jackson] legacy are the same people who are still in line, and we need to open it up for more people.”
The increasingly popular City Council President adds, “That’s why in my conjunction with my priority to keep the airport under the city’s control, I’m working just as feverishly as I can to help make things fair so that people will free to want to bid for work at the city, and people will have a fair shake so it’s not a pay to play situation and it’s not who you know. It’s based on merit.”
Moore, whose political cache and clout has risen significantly since her election, authored legislation creating Independent Procurement Review Officers. “It is new law, it’s a game-changer,” she opines. It didn’t get as much publicity as I would have liked it to get. Some of the first ones they are working on are some concessions awards at the airport.”
Margaret Muhammad, along with her husband Steven, have been a widely respected political, civil rights and community activist team in Atlanta for the past several decades. Because of their twin commitments, GBCA unabashedly advocates, defends and educates every day on behalf of black businesses.
“If the state takes over the airport it will be demonstrably worse for black contractors. At least they’re eating now.” contends the GBCA president. “They’re just using alleged City Hall corruption as a ruse, an excuse. It’s fake news. The Federal Aviation Administration considers Hartsfield-Jackson the best run airport in the nation.”
In 2005, the GBCA broke away from the National Association of Minority Contractors (NAMC), a nonprofit trade association established in 1969 to address the concerns of minority contractors. Margaret Muhammad says emphatically that black contractors are GBCA’s sole constituency.
“We started out of the need for boots on the ground,” Muhammad explains. “Most of us were members of NAMC and we felt like it was becoming a social tool when we needed real advocacy. Now we are fighting every day.
“No, black contractors are not getting their fair of city contracts - absolutely not,” she laments. “You have to be committed the same way Maynard Jackson was.