LOS ANGELES -- The phone started ringing after Leslie Porter selected only minority- and women-owned firms to underwrite a $700 million transit bond issue. And the calls came from some of the biggest names on the Street.

"A banker would say, ~Listen, you're taking a big risk here, and if those firms can't perform, we're prepared to backstop you. We can take this deal down,'" said Mr. Porter, finance director for the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission.

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