Minorities share 43% of city contracts, but blacks get just 11%

SHARE Minorities share 43% of city contracts, but blacks get just 11%

Aldermen Ricardo Munoz and Roderick Sawyer at a Chicago City Council meeting. Wednesday in February. File Photo. / for the Sun-Times

Companies owned by minorities and women are sharing a 43 percent piece of the city contracting pie, but African-Americans still lag behind, with an 11 percent sliver.

The Emanuel administration disclosed the contracting figures, moments after Chief Procurement Officer Jamie Rhee got off the hot seat on the final day of City Council budget hearings.

From Jan. 1 through Sept. 30, the city awarded $1.1 billion in contracts and paid $391 million or 35 percent to companies owned by minorities and $91.7 million or eight percent to firms controlled by women.

That 43 percent showing goes well beyond the newly-revised 26 percent and six percent goals established earlier this year for Chicago’s revised construction set-aside program.

But, a closer look shows another round of disappointing results for African-Americans at a time when black aldermen have become increasingly vocal in their demands for a greater share of the contracting pie.

During the same nine-month period, black contractors got just $120.6 million or 11 percent of overall city spending. That’s compared to 16 percent or $182.5 million for companies owned by Hispanics and 10 percent or $112.7 million for Asian-American.

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, said he’s disappointed by the 11 percent showing, but it’s not for lack of effort.

“It’s not enough. But, I applaud Commissioner Rhee’s efforts to make sure that we get those numbers where they need to be,” Sawyer said.

“She has a variety of outreach programs that she’s trying to convince African-Americans to take advantage of — both at the sub-[contractor] and the prime level. I’m just happy that we’re continuing to work with the commissioner on getting those numbers up. I can’t blame her solely for the numbers not being where they want to be. But, I do appreciate her willingness to work with us on making sure those numbers get better.”

Pressed to identify the single biggest obstacle to broadening the contracting umbrella, Sawyer said, “A lot of black contractors don’t like to bid because of payment issues. They get paid slow. There are certain restrictions on what they can do. Sometimes, it’s the contractors unwilling to bid on certain projects because of that.”

Last month, the City Council came within one vote of blocking a $3.5 billion O’Hare Airport bond issue, delivering another powerful message about the lack of minority participation on city contracts and the gravy train of pinstripe patronage tied to city borrowings.

Earlier this week, Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans was raked over the coals on the shortage of minority contractors and employees at O’Hare and Midway Airports.

The back and forth left black aldermen so frustrated, they want make it more difficult for the $300,000-a-year aviation commissioner to qualify for her $100,000-a-year bonus.

On Friday, Sawyer was asked why Evans got such rough treatment while aldermen handled Rhee with kid gloves.

“It’s the willingness to work with us [that’s different]. The numbers are about the same [citywide and at O’Hare]. But, it’s the attitude and the effort” that Rhee has and Evans doesn’t, Sawyer said.

That full-court press was on display during Friday’s testimony.

Rhee talked about the 100 outreach events and “construction summit” the city holds to encourage minority contractors in general and black companies in particular to compete for city contracts.

She also talked about one of the many bid incentives the mayor has put in place, including a “diversity credit” to boost minority contracting in the private sector.

“For every $3 spent in the private sector, we’ll give $1 credit on a future bid incentive. That really incentivizes those contractors that do both public and private work,” Rhee said.

“Having talked to a lot of primes, they say, ‘Historically, I had two sets of subs. One for private jobs and one for public work.’ Now, there seems to be a lot more crossover. We want our contractors who are small minority- and women- owned businesses to diversify their portfolios as well. When they’re tied to one contract and that contract goes out to bid and they’re not on that winning team, they have problems.”

Last winter, Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th) approached Emanuel about raising the bar for minorities and women and said the mayor was inclined to go along to “rebuild trust in the African-American community” so alienated by his handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.

Boosting minority contracting is key to the mayor’s ongoing effort to get back into the good graces of African-American voters who elected him in 2011 and re-elected him in 2015, even after he closed a record 50 public schools. Now, Emanuel is asking black voters to give him a third chance.

In Friday’s press release, the mayor stressed the 43 percent showing for minorities and women and commended Rhee for, what he called the “positive results.”

“Vendors that work on city contracts should reflect the diversity of the city itself, which is why we are committed to leveling the playing field so that local small, minority and women owned business have opportunities to participate,” the mayor was quoted as saying.

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