Aldermen demand diversity from financial firms tied to bond deals

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In 2002, Chicago became the first city in the nation to demand that city contractors scour their records and come clean about past ties to slavery or get off the governmental gravy train.

On Tuesday, the heated reparations fight resurfaced.

It happened after the City Council’s Finance Committee approved yet another disclosure ordinance tailor-made to pressure a lily-white financial services industry to diversify its workforce or risk losing pinstripe patronage tied to city bond deals.

“I’m not talking about giving people a fish to eat. Teach people how to fish so they can feed their own families. Let us be a part of this. You all have made money off our ancestors trading them for slavery. And you cannot allow us to work for you even now? It’s ridiculous,” said Ald. Walter Burnett (27th).

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) shared Burnett’s frustration.

“In 2014, we are still being discriminated against. Racism is not dead. What the banks are doing is straight-out racism, straight-out discrimination and, historically, they have red-lined communities,” Hairston said.

“We are not begging for jobs. We are educated at the same institutions that they are educated at. In fact, some of us have more of an education than a lot of people who get those big salaries.”

The ordinance championed by retiring Ald. Latasha Thomas (17th) and co-signed by 17 aldermen requires law firms, financial advisers, brokers and underwriters to disclose to the city’s chief financial officer or to the city treasurer the “race or ethnicity, position and title of each person employed by the company” who is expected to play a role in the city transaction.

“We want to encourage companies to develop minority [and] women talent from within their companies,” Thomas said.

The alderman noted that 13 financial services firms that do business in the Chicago area have joined forces in hopes of recruiting more minorities to fill senior-level jobs that, according to a 2012 survey by the Chicago Community Trust, were more than 90-percent filled by whites.

The so-called Financial Services Pipeline includes such giants as: Bank of America, BMO Harris Bank, the CME Group, the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, Northern Trust, Madison Dearborn and Mesirow Financial.

For years, African-American aldermen have been raising the minority hiring issue every time a borrowing or financial transaction comes before them. Every time, they see the same sorry numbers.

On Tuesday, Burnett finally blew his stack.

He recalled what happened 12 years ago when then-Ald. Dorothy Tillman (3rd), City Council champion for reparations, exposed banks for “selling African-American people as a commodity.”

“You would think after being exposed with that … that they would think about hiring some African-Americans to work for their companies. But they didn’t do it. They still continue to have the good-ol’-boy club in some of these institutions,” he said.

“You would think after these banks rape our communities with these mortgages and take advantage of minority people with these subprime loans that they would allow for minorities and women to get jobs, but they still haven’t done it …. I don’t know what we have to do to get them to open these doors.”

Burnett said a large investment bank he refused to identify had the gall to send “a black face from New York” to see the alderman, just to prove the firm had at least one African-American on staff.

When Burnett asked how many more worked for the company, the emissary had trouble naming five names nationwide. None were located in Chicago, Burnett said. One of the banks literally went out and hired somebody to be in on the deal after the alderman started posing questions because they had none in-house, he said.

“If you say something about it, they make you look like you’re racist, but we’re not racist. We just want people to be fair and allow for us to work for them. This is crazy that women and minorities cannot work for these companies and they keep locking us out. They need to do something or they need not do business with us here in the city,” Burnett said.

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