There is nothing like starting off the new year with a good old-fashioned political fight. On Jan. 20 Cong. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (2nd Dist.) criticized the City of Chicago's affirmative action contract program. There seems to have been almost a scandal a week regarding the city's set-aside program. Mayor Daley, it appears, did not know there were apparently phony "front" people pretending to be minorities and these set-aside contracts were being filled by Mayor Daley's friends and political contributors.
In recent newspaper interviews Cong. Jackson stated the city has "rampant corruptionâ€"I am concerned about the reports of rampant corruption and fraud and abuse in the city." He pointed out things like the $100 million city janitorial contract that went to Daley's friends, the Duff family. Currently, James Duff has pleaded guilty to corruption charges. Duff is one of the contractors who had his 80-year-old mother "fronting" as a minority.
On Jan. 21, Austin Alderman Isaac Carothers (29th Ward) responded to WVON radio talk show host Perri Small and Matt McGill whose discussion on city contracts, Cong. Jackson and ongoing scandals was a hot topic. Perri and Matt made a request for aldermen to call in to give their side.
West Side Alderman Ed Smith (28th Ward) stated in the Jan. 21 Tribune, "I am not a rubber stamp." I never have been, and I never will be." In the same article, the Tribune quoted Carothers: "'He doesn't want to be mayor,' an angry Ald. Isaac Carothers said of Jackson. 'He wants to be king ... It's clear to me his intentions are not just concerning what is happening in [contracting]. His concern is about being king of the world."
Following is Ald. Carothers' conversation with WVON hosts:
Matt: "The articles that were in the paper today, would you like to clarify anything. Were you quoted accurately or is there anything you would like to add to that?"
Carothers: "Well I believe it was a proper quote absolutely. It's no doubt that Jesse Jr. came out to my ward, worked against me in 2003â€"even though his district is far, far South Side. He came out to the far West Side to work against me for no reason at allâ€"because he had wanted to have someone else there, which is interesting to me that he has a interest on the West Side of Chicago, when his district is way on the South Side of Chicago, and for him to suggest that this program is no good at all, I think is disingenuous. ... If it had not been for the City Council, we would not even have a program. Many people have benefited from this program. You're going to always have some people who are going to circumvent the rules. Just like you got people who cheat on public aid, some folks cheat on Medicaid, but you don't throw the programs out. You throw those people out.
Perri: "Well I'm not going to give credit to the City Council about why we have minority set-asides. I'm going to give credit where credit is due, and that is to Mayor Harold Washington. What the City Council's purpose is is to make sure it is true, that the people who are supposed to get these contracts do indeed get them. Ald. Carothers, it sounds personal."
Carothers: "No it's not personal at all."
Perri: "You said that Jesse Jackson Jr. came and worked in your ward. I don't think most people have a problem with him saying something stinks in Denmark."
Carothers: "No one has denied the fact that there are some people who try to circumvent the system, and you can't stop someone from lying. And then when we discover those people, we need to deal with them. For him to suggest that the program is not good is disingenuousâ€"that is not true. And you're right, Harold brought the program to town, but realizing that the federal government struck down that program and this City Council is the one that reorganized it and met the court challenge. We wrote the program, so that is why we have a program today.
Perri: "Well if you wrote the program, you're doing a piss-poor job, because we got too much fraud going on."
Carothers: "Do you think we should get rid of Medicaid because two or three people lie on Medicaid? Should we throw away the whole program?"
Perri: "I'm talking what can benefit African Americans. That is the concern of WVON and that is the concern of me."
Carothers: "The reason we have the program because we want to benefit African Americans. When the county lost their programs, African-American participation went down to almost zero. The same thing would have happened in city government if it didn't have this program today."
Perri: "That doesn't have anything to do with it. That came straight from the top, Ald. Carothers. If the mayor wanted that program to work, if you guys did what you were supposed to do in the City Council, it would work. You approved every contract."
Carothers: "That is not true; that's inaccurate."
Perri: "Are those no bid contracts?"
Carothers: "First of all, you need to know what you're talking about. For you to say that we approve every contract is not a fact. That is untrue."
Perri: "OK tell me where I'm wrong, sir."
Carothers: "Those contracts do not come before the City Council. It means that those contracts don't require City Council approval."
Perri: "Why don't they?"
Carothers: "Well I'm not going to get into the why. I'm just telling you the facts.
Matt: "Well, I think the concern of the average voter out there, when they pick up the newspaper and they see that minority contracts are being awarded to white males in this city, their concern is that City Council is sleeping at the switch, and you say that is not true. Explain to people, alderman (and I appreciate you coming on the show), explain why is that not true when people feel the alderman must know? When we see all the corruption that is going on, we're talking about not just the minority-based contracts, but we're talking about the truck-for-hire program. We're talking about the tow truck incidentsâ€"over 70 thousand cars were towed. People just feel like the City Council has to know that this kind of corruption is going on."
Carothers: "That is not true. the City Council is doing everything it can, certainly, and I know that all the African-American aldermen are and the Hispanic [aldermen] are, and I think most of the alderman are. I'm very concerned about the corruption. When you're talking about the towing, it was African American aldermen who created a whole new system for the towing to allow a payment plan. Of course, we always know that positive things won't get the [same] air-play as the negative, but it was the Black Caucus in the City Council that did that. It was black aldermen that said, 'Hey, look, we got to do something with this procurement to make sure that African Americans get more.' We know that it's not perfect. I can tell you one thing, you cannot legislate people from lying. And when people lie and you find out about it, you have to deal with them."
Matt: "Let me ask you this, are we going to see the African-American aldermen in City Council come together and have some kind of coalition like we had when Harold Washington was mayor and be accountable for issues that are pertinent to the African-American community? I think the constituents here in Chicagoâ€"black votersâ€"are feeling abandoned by their aldermen. Not just minority-based contracts that are going on, but we see absolutely no opposition. The budget. Who stood up against the mayor's budget, which includes contracts and money that is not going to African-American contractors?"
Carothers: "When you talk about the budget, just because people don't hold press conferences every other day to talk about what is happening, doesn't mean people are not making decisions and working on behalf of their constituents. It happens every single day. We wrangle every day in committee meetings, behind closed doors, trying to come out with the best deal that we can for our constituents. Just because we don't do it by press conference, like some others choose to do at press conferences and radio shows, does not mean that we are not working on behalf of our constituents. Some people who are experts in giving press conferences and radio showsâ€"and that is fine if that is what they want to doâ€"but I'm concerned about making sure that something actually happens, and we actually do that and if you would look at the record of many of us who sit in the council, you will see many positive things that have happened.
"If you will look at my ward, you will find more money spent in my ward than many wards in the city of Chicago. I'm building new schools, I'm building a police station, new streets, infrastructure projects. Millions and millions of dollars are spent in the 29th Ward. The 29th Ward looks better then it every has in the history of the existence of the 29th Ward.
Perri: "That's not saying a helluva a lot."
Carothers: "So don't tell me what we're not doing."
Perri: "Alderman, you're being very combative. I'm trying to understand what the process is and it's not just me. There is a perception that there are too many things being done behind closed doors and not in an open forum. You know what? Maybe there are people within that are ignorant to the process."
Carothers: "First of all, I don't appreciate you calling people in my ward ignorant. That's the first problem with you. You sit up high, and now you sit here and insult people in my ward.
Perri: "I did not call people in the 29th Ward ignorant. I very much respect the people of the ward. I said there are people in the ward that might be ignorant to the process. That has nothing to do with their intelligence.
Carothers: "We have a very intelligent base of people who live in the 29th Ward in the Austin community, and I will not sit here and let you or anybody else insult the integrity of all those good people who live in the 29th Ward.
Perri: "I'm not trying to insult you or anybody in the 29th Ward."
The alderman wrapped up by stating, "I'm well aware of my position as alderman. I've been elected to this position two times. And if you will notice, the 29th Ward was the number one voting-getting ward in the entire city of Chicago. Not black wardsâ€"number one in the entire city of Chicago, which is historic in and of itself. So I really take offense when people sit here and say people are being ignorant in the 29th Ward. And I was never appointed. When I ran for alderman, I ran against nine people. I wasn't appointed to any position."
A South Side caller stated, "I'm from the South Side. That does not mean that I don't care about the West Side, the East Side, the North Side and all of Chicago. When it comes to black, Hispanic, white or whatever, Jesse Jackson Jr. as a congressman and an elected official, wherever he sees a need or problem, he should address it, not just stay on the South Side. What are you talking about? I would hope that if one of your colleagues on the South Side were not doing what they should, you would speak up.
Carothers:"First of all I've been doing what I should be doing over in the 29th Ward. I was duly elected there, so what business he has coming over in my ward running a candidate against me on the far West Side, when he don't even know nothing about the West Side. PUSH has always been on the South Side and not on the West Side, so what business does he have coming over on the West Side getting involved in a race against me? He hasn't had a conversation with me."
Perri and Matt thanked the alderman for coming on and taking the heat and defending his comments and position. Perri Small wanted to clarify and make clear that she was not calling people in the 29th Ward ignorant. "Any of us can be ignorant to facts or a particular process. This kind of rhetoric camouflages the core of the topic, which was city contracts and the ongoing scandals in Chicago."