Aldermen need to be involved in oversight of set-asides

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By James Hammonds

"No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream," Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said. It seems that Dr. King may have missed the mark with this statement?"as far as affirmative action in the construction industry is concerned.

African Americans in Chicago are completely satisfied with the marginal gains made in the development of small construction companies and a similar minor increase in construction workers. In fact my unofficial poll indicates that most blacks in Chicago could care less about all of the "front" companies, the loss of business and jobs to persons outside the community.

Perhaps this malaise is a result of not seeing tangible results from Chicago's affirmative action program in the neighborhoods during the last decade. After all, Chicago, unlike Atlanta, never witnessed the substantial improvements in African-American participation on construction projects. This unfortunate situation has left Chicagoans quite content to languish along with a broken program.

Another possible factor is the failure of Chicago to have an affirmative action program dedicated to the advancement of black people. Hermene Hartman in the Jan. 21 edition of N'Digo provides some insight into this matter with her comment, "As long as African Americans are lumped into the we're-all-in-this-together minority pot, blacks lose." In Chicago's black communities, it is easy to see persons from all the other "groups" working on city projects?"everyone except African Americans. This situation can't help but further demoralize a people who already feel locked out of the economic system.

Despite this negative scenario, communities like Austin must not give up hope. The newspaper articles about "front" companies should be a call to action. Instead of sitting on the sidelines letting other people reap the benefits of city capital expenditures, it is time to engage Austin's aldermen in active and positive discussions regarding changes that should be made to benefit this community.

According to 29th Ward Alderman Carothers' comment that appeared in the Jan. 27 edition of the Austin Weekly News, city "contracts do not currently come before the Chicago City Council. They do not require council approval."

During Mayor Harold Washington's tenure, this was not the case. The city council made certain the City complied with the affirmative action program provisions and reviewed all of the contracts. They also held meetings with the purchasing agent and made certain the ordinance was being followed.

Perhaps the Chicago City Council should go back to the procedure it followed under Harold Washington. This might assist Alderman Carothers and his colleagues to spot some of the abuses in the program.

Consider the Central Avenue Bridge and the 15th District police station projects. If there was a policy in place that allowed the aldermen to review contracts, then Austin residents would know the facts regarding the affirmative action numbers for these projects. Aldermen would be in a position to identify the "front" companies and the African-American firms that act as a "pass through" for white-owned businesses.

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