Meeks says minority contracts should only go to blacks
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporteremail@example.com December 16, 2010 12:26PM
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
Mayoral challenger James Meeks scrambled Thursday to put out a political fire touched off by his suggestion that only African Americans should be eligible for city contracts set aside for minorities and women.
Meeks made the statement on Wednesday during an interview on WVON-AM (1690). It happened during a discussion of why African-American businesses got a 7 percent sliver of Chicago’s $1 billion spending pie through Aug. 31, down from 8 percent a year ago.
“The word ‘minority’ from our standpoint should mean African American. I don’t think women, Asians and Hispanics should be able to use that title,” he said. “That’s why our numbers cannot improve — because we use women, Asians and Hispanics who are not people of color, who are not people who have been discriminated against.”
Hours after making those remarks, Meeks back-tracked by saying he would only exclude white women if elected mayor. The set-aside program currently earmarks 25 percent of all city contracts for minorities and 5 percent for companies owned by women.
“I don’t believe white women should be considered in that count ….You have white women in the category. They receive contracts. Then, white men receive contracts. Where does that leave everybody else?” he told Fox-owned WFLD-Channel 32 news.
On Thursday, Meeks issued a written statement further clarifying his remarks. It emphasized that “all minority- and women-owned businesses” deserve their “fair share” of city contracts. But Meeks also noted that “systemic corruption” has allowed white-owned “fronts” posing as minorities and women to defraud the program and make African-Americans the “most under-represented among city contractors.”
The explanation came too late to put out the political fire.
Hedy Ratner, co-president of the Women’s Business Development Center, was already “furious” at Meeks. She argued Thursday that, if anything, the 5 percent set-aside for women “should be higher.”
“Is he saying that this should be an African-American city with policies only for African Americans? I’m surprised that a candidate for mayor who wants to represent the entire city would exclude a majority of its citizens,” she said.
Paul Cerpa, executive director of the Hispanic American Construction Industry Association (HACIA), said the federal government has made it clear that the “presumptive group” of those historically discriminated against includes blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans and “women, regardless of ethnicity.”
“To draw the line in the sand and say, ‘This is only mine — not yours’ doesn’t allow everyone to play in the sandbox,” Cerpa said.
Of the $1 billion in contracts awarded during the first eight months of this year, African Americans got 7 percent or $73.6 million worth, compared to 8 percent or $83 million for Asian Americans, 14 percent or $142.2 million for Hispanics and 8 percent or $81 million for women.
In 2005, James Duff pleaded guilty to masterminding a scheme to defraud the city of $100 million in contracts earmarked for minorities and women. A string of revelations by the Chicago Sun-Times provided further proof that Daley’s minority set-aside program had been manipulated by the politically connected at the expense of minorities.