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Saturday, February 27, 2021

Ballard administration transforms white-owned business into an Asian, minority-owned one

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On numerous occasions this column has given shout outs to the quality journalism published in the Indianapolis Business Journal.

And this week is no exception. A front page story by IBJ’s Managing Editor Cory Schouten reports the machinations and political logrolling by Ersal Ozdemir, a politically connected businessman, who’s used his connections to garner millions in tax benefits and subsidies for a variety of projects throughout Indianapolis.

These types of business-meets-politician deals happen in cities all over.

But what makes the deals of Ozdemir and his main business Keystone Construction of great interest to our African-American community is that his business has been certified as a minority-owned business by both the City of Indianapolis and the State of Indiana.

Just one problem – Ozdemir isn’t a minority, based upon the commonly accepted definitions of minority-owned businesses (MBE).

Ozdemir is a native of Mersin, Turkey, a town on the Mediterrean Sea.

According to IBJ, Ozdemir applied to the city as an MBE business, but was turned down in 2010. Under existing laws, individuals from Turkey aren’t considered one of the minority groups – Black/African-American, Asian, Hispanic, and American Indian, defined by the feds, state and city.

But, according to IBJ, Ozdemir appealed saying that because Turkey is located both in Europe and Asia; he should be considered “Asian” and thus a minority.

According to geography, Ozdemir’s homeowtown is in the part of Turkey that’s in Asia. But, according to geography, so are nations close by, including Cyprus, Iraq, Lebanon and Israel.

But, the federal government strongly disagrees.

The feds say persons from Odzemir’s native land are considered as whites: “A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa.

IBJ tried numerous times to interview Greg Wilson, head of Indy’s Office of Minority and Women Business about why Ozdemir’s business was classified as minority and Asian. Wilson didn’t respond.

Several sources who have years of experience working with minority-owned business issues, told me they were puzzled as to why the city classified Ozdemir and Keystone as an “Asian” minority-owned business. They can’t remember any instance where a businessperson from Turkey or neighboring nations in what’s described as the Asia Minor Region have been classified as an MBE.

The National Minority Development Supplier Council, which works with minority-owned businesses, doesn’t recognize businesses owned by individuals of Turkish origin.

Obviously, since the Ballard administration has included Keystone’s city contract dollars into their totals for minority-owned businesses, it puts the credibility of those numbers into question. Given the large amount of business and subsidies Ozdemir’s businesses have received from the city, including the Broad Ripple Parking Garage and other projects that may have greatly inflated the dollars Mayor Ballard has touted as going to minority-owned businesses.

It also explains the unreasonable refusal of the mayor’s minions to release detailed data on how much has been spent with minority-owned businesses.

In August 2012, I requested that data by the city and was told that it didn’t exist.

Now we know why. Because giving millions in contracts to a business that anywhere else in the country would be considered a majority-owned business, has unacceptably made the Ballard administration’s minority-owned business data worthless.

And it’s turned into a lie the Ballard administration’s claims of how well they’re helping Indianapolis’ minority businesses.

Worse, classifying Keystone Construction as an Asian-owned business is a slap in the face to the many legitimate businesses owned by true Asian residents of Indianapolis.

From reading the IBJ article, Ozdemir is a smart, cunning businessman. He didn’t need to bend and break the MBE rules in order to succeed. The fact that he did and that the administrations of former Gov. Mitch Daniels and Mayor Ballard perverted the rules to let him do so, demonstrates that we may have reached a point, unfortunately, where the MBE programs in Indiana and Indianapolis may have become corrupt and worthless!

What I’m hearing in the streets

Deeply disappointed that Sen. Joe Donnelly forgot his legal training and history and joined rabid conservatives is voting down President Barack Obama’s choice of Debo Adegbile to head the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department. Seven Democrats including Donnelly joined Republican senators in defeating Adegbile’s nomination.

Despite a distinguished career, conservatives, Republicans and the rabid right wing went after Adegbile because when he worked for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, he filed a legal brief supporting eliminating the death penalty for a convicted cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal.

The Abu-Jamal case was a celebrated case that rallied thousands who believe that America shouldn’t have a death penalty. After years of legal battles, Abu-Jamal’s sentence was commuted to life without parole.

Despite the fact that Abu-Jamal will never see freedom, the rightwing went after Adegbile, partly as part of the right’s fight to reduce civil and voting rights in America.

And sadly, with his vote, Donnelly wittingly or unwittingly went along with the foes of civil rights.

* * * * *

Glad that Gleaners Food Bank and a grassroots group, Seniors 1000 Coalition that works with Black seniors, have joined forces to continue to get food to seniors formerly served by the Martin Luther King Multi-Service Center.

It’s shameful that the clueless MLK Center Board and the United Way ignored continuing services to seniors in the MLK service area. An area that has a higher percentage of persons over 60 than for the city-county as a whole.

Meanwhile silence from MLK and United Way on their plans to reconstitute MLK and provide services other than youth after-school care and summer programs.

See ‘ya next week.

You can email comments to Amos Brown at acbrown@aol.com.

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