WASHINGTON — Some Hispanic Democrats are angry that one of the few major contracts for minority businesses at the Democratic National Convention went to a leader of North Carolina’s Republican Party.
Convention organizers made a big effort to contract with minority-run businesses. But some Hispanics see contracting with the chairman of North Carolina’s Republican National Hispanic Assembly as anathema to the mission of the Democrats, especially considering the partisan differences on major issues such as immigration.
The contract also has reopened existing rifts between advocates for undocumented residents and more conservative members of the Hispanic community who are more integrated into the business community.
“The DNC convention people were hoodwinkled,” said German de Castro, co-chairman of the Hispanic Voter Coalition of Charlotte and an active member of the Hispanic American Democrats of North Carolina. “We have people in our party that needed those contracts that we should have supported because they support us.”
Victor Guzman, who leads Republican campaigns across North Carolina, received an $80,000 contract to produce thousands of blue reusable water bottles emblazoned with the skyline of the host city, Charlotte, for DNC volunteers and other attendees. Before the convention, he had spent the past several months campaigning across the state and leading the work of Republican Latino offices in Charlotte, Raleigh and Greensboro.
Guzman credited the Democrats for putting the economic benefits of Charlotte ahead of party affiliation.
“The fact that they were blind to whatever party you belong to, I think, is a good thing,” Guzman said in an interview. “I would hope that the Republican Party was the same way.”
In March, Democratic convention planners announced an ambitious goal to spend at least one-third of contract dollars with businesses owned by a diverse range of groups, including minorities and women.
Convention organizers said Thursday that they were still tabulating expenditures, but they expected to reach their one-third goal for diversity spending. They would not answer questions about concerns from Hispanic Democrats about Guzman.
His contract was chosen by the convention host committee, which is nonpartisan.
A senior host committee official, who did not want to be named because of the political dispute, said vendors were chosen not by party affiliation but “based on their ability to meet our needs.”
Edwin Gil, who sought but did not receive contracts to host events at his art showroom, Gil Gallery, said the convention organizers should have been paying closer attention to party affiliation.
“It’s not logical that those of us supporting the campaign didn’t get this opportunity and those who are against the campaign benefit from the convention,” Gil said.
Others criticized Charlotte’s Latin American Chamber of Commerce for failing to disclose that Guzman was a leader in the Republican Party. Guzman, a native of Puerto Rico who has lived in Charlotte more than 20 years, helped start the chamber.
Olma Echeverri, chairwoman of the Hispanic American Democrats of North Carolina and the wife of German de Castro, said the chamber is an inner circle too closely tied to Republicans. She said the chamber should have made an effort to reach out to other members of the group who were Democrats or, at least, not actively campaigning against the party.
The business organization recommended more than a dozen Latino-operated businesses for contracts, according to executive director Astrid Chirinos. Convention officials never asked whether the owners were members of the Democratic or Republican parties. She said she would not have participated if they did. The chamber is not a political organization, she said. It’s made up of Republicans and Democrats, and she said she would not discriminate against any member because of their party affiliation.
“Whether he was or whether he is the president of the Hispanic Republican Party was not an issue,” Chirinos said. “This was about business. And this was about who was the best person for that particular job and who would deliver.”
Chirinos said other larger contracts were awarded to minority-owned businesses such as Network Cabling Systems and Neighboring Concepts, an architectural firm involved in modifying Time Warner Cable Arena into a convention hall. A Colombian baker, La Delicias Bakery, also received a contract.
It’s not just Latinos who are concerned. Local African-American groups also have been critical of the convention. The Carolina Regional Minority Partnership Coalition is polling members to find out who received contracts or subcontracts. They want to know how much money business owners made and whether they were pleased overall with the Charlotte convention.
Colette Forrest, co-chairwoman of the coalition, praised the work of Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx but said that some members feel minorities were not given the opportunities promised. A least one member felt they were part of a “dog and pony show,” she said. Others felt like the convention organizers micromanaged contracts.
“If you had an event at your venue, well, they assigned you a caterer,” Forrest said. “They assigned you the event planner. They assigned you the entertainment. You could not choose who you would work with. The DNC assigned who you would work with. So that what was kind of awkward for some of the members.”