Emanuel responds to ugly testimony by Water Management employees

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It’ll take a lot longer than six months to change a hate-infested culture decades in the making at Chicago’s Department of Water Management, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Monday.

Emanuel defended Water Management Commissioner Randy Conner five days after African-American employees argued that nothing has changed since racist, sexist and homophobic emails triggered the firing of a white commissioner and the appointment of a black replacement.

“You cannot judge him on culture because the culture of that department has been around for decades. But as it relates to the rules, he’s been very clear,” the mayor said.

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“I can say this as a mayor when I’ve had to deal with changing a culture around City Hall. You can’t judge Randy’s success in six months taking on decades of a culture. … You can judge him [on], did he make a clear line where people know now there’s somebody with a different attitude and a different perspective?”

Emanuel said the answer to that question is an unqualified, “Yes.”

“Randy has done a very good job in being very clear that there’s a before and after in the sense of the rules and application of the rules,” the mayor said.

“I appreciate that, from Day One, he reached out. He’s had the legal team … helping guide him to make sure there’s training around for everybody to understand that we’re not gonna accept bias — whether it’s for gender or race. He’s been very clear about those rules. And I appreciate his leadership in … telling people what is right, what is wrong, what is accepted, what is totally unacceptable and having a clear line.”

Last week, nearly two dozen current and former Water Management employees painted a troubling portrait of the department at the center of the Hired Truck and city hiring scandals.

A black woman said she was told she wouldn’t get a promotion because she “wouldn’t go under the desk.”

African-American men said they were denied promotions and overtime and denounced on a daily basis as the N-word with profanity attached.

Blacks of both sexes who dared to complain about discrimination said they were punished with trumped-up charges based on hearsay.

The ugly testimony turned up the heat on Emanuel to settle a lawsuit filed last year by four current and two former Water Management employees – all African-American.

A few days later, the City Council’s 11-member Progressive Caucus demanded a second hearing — this time, to have the departments of Law and Human Resources, as well as Inspector General Joe Ferguson, weigh in.

It was Ferguson who uncovered the hate-filled emails while investigating allegations that one of the now-fired deputies had used his city email account to sell guns.

The Progressive Caucus also demanded the hiring of an “independent firm” — paid for out of the Water Management budget — to conduct a study they hope will expose “the full scope of the disparities” in the department.

“We appreciate and respect the leadership of the new Commissioner Randy Conner. Still, there have been systemic issues of racism that predate his tenure and will take years to right,” Ald. Sophia King (4th) was quoted as saying in a press release.

“It’s time to use the full force of the city to bring these issues to light. We need an outside and independent audit to analyze the instances of disparities in hiring and selection, promotions, terminations, overtime and other areas fraught with discrimination based on race and gender.”

The Department of Water Management has long been notorious around City Hall for its history of corruption and ugly, hate-filled culture.

In 2005, a housecleaning in the department at the center of the Hired Truck scandal swept out then-Water Management Commissioner Rick Rice and nine politically connected underlings accused of participating in a payroll scam.

The brother-in-law of Cook County Commissioner John Daley and the relative of a key Hired Truck figure were among those purged for allegedly falsifying attendance records over a two-month period – maybe longer – by swiping each other in and out.

First Deputy Water Commissioner Donald Tomczak was convicted of doling out jobs, promotions and overtime to an army of political workers who worked for Daley-backed candidates, including Emanuel. Support from Tomczak’s illegal army helped elect Emanuel to Congress in 2002.

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