Whites continue to dominate the highest-paying jobs in Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office, in the mayor’s Cabinet and in the executive ranks of the sister agencies under his control, a Chicago Sun-Times examination found.
The overall city payroll also remains disproportionately a white bastion, though it has gotten slightly more diverse over the past three years under Emanuel, who topped the field in the Feb. 24 mayoral election but didn’t get the majority needed to avoid an unprecedented mayoral runoff next month against Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.
Of the more than 32,500 total city employees, nearly 46 percent are white, 31.8 percent are black, 18 percent are Hispanic and fewer than 3 percent are Asian American, city records show.
Those numbers represent slight declines in white and black workers and modest upticks among Hispanic and Asian employees since April 2012.
No racial group makes up even one-third of Chicago’s population, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau, for 2013. Whites are slightly more numerous than blacks and Hispanics.
The mayor’s office — where every employee can be hired or fired without regard to the merit rules that apply to some city jobs — was 57 percent white three years ago. That figure had fallen to 47 percent white as of December 2014.
The racial balance among City Hall department heads has improved slightly over the past three years. In 2012, Emanuel’s cabinet included 19 whites, five blacks, three Hispanics, two Asians and an Arab-American. Now, there are 17 whites, five blacks, four Hispanics and two Asians.
In the mayor’s office, the five aides paid the most are white: Lisa Schrader, Emanuel’s chief of staff; Lois Scott, the city’s chief financial officer; Michael Rendina, director of intergovernmental affairs; Emanuel’s chief spokeswoman Kelley Quinn; and Melissa Green, who lobbies for the city in Washington, D.C.
The highest-paid African-American in the mayor’s office is Ken Bennett, at No. 6 on the list, who is deputy chief of staff.
The top-paid Hispanic and Asian mayoral aides — tied at No. 7 — are Michael Negron and Paras Desai.
They would have been farther down the rankings if not for the departure to Emanuel’s re-election campaign of David Spielfogel, who’d been his policy director.
The Sun-Times’ review also found:
• The top ranks of the Chicago Public Schools includes six blacks, six whites and one Asian. A CPS spokesman said Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the school system’s chief executive officer, is of mixed African-American, Puerto Rican, Jamaican and Irish ancestry.
• Of the 10 highest-paid officials at the Chicago Transit Authority, six are white and four are black. Among the top-ranking CTA officials who are white are several who worked for former Mayor Richard M. Daley, including President Forrest Claypool and top aides Joan Coogan, Chris Bushell and Karen Seimetz.
• The executive team at the Chicago Housing Authority has three whites, two blacks and the new chief of administration, Jose A. Alvarez, who is Hispanic.
• The Chicago Park District has four white and two black executives.
• The top administrators of the City Colleges of Chicago includes seven blacks, six whites and one Hispanic. Of the presidents of the seven City Colleges campuses, three are white, three are black and one is Hispanic.
“Mayor Emanuel strongly believes that city government and his staff should reflect the great diversity of our neighborhoods across Chicago,” said mayoral spokesman Adam Collins.
“The city conducts quarterly meetings to review diversity figures and identify areas that are lacking in diversity or groups that are underrepresented in the city’s workforce,” Collins added.
He pointed to hiring preferences City Hall put in place for CPS graduates before the 2013 police entrance exam and the 2014 firefighter exam as steps toward improving diversity.
“Although there is more work to be done, the results from the 2014 firefighter entrance exam show continued progress toward a more diverse Chicago Fire Department,” Collins said, noting higher percentages of blacks and Hispanics passing the test last year compared to the last time it was offered, in 2006.
Always a factor in Chicago politics, race and ethnicity are seen by many as keys to Emanuel’s failure to get the majority needed to avoid a runoff and win a second term.
Garcia, who was born in Mexico, topped the field of challengers last month to make the runoff. He was endorsed last week by Willie Wilson, the top African-American challenger, who finished third with 10.6 percent of the overall vote but 21.9 percent of the vote in predominantly black wards.
“The mayor has been pretty disconnected from the neighborhoods, and that’s partly because of the lack of diversity” in his administration, Garcia said Saturday.
If elected, he said, increasing the diversity of the city payroll would be an important goal for him.
“It’s really important that the city’s workforce from top to bottom reflect the city’s population and labor force,” Garcia said. “Chicago can only move forward when the administration reflects its diversity in the Cabinet and at all levels, in every department.”
Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) — whose father Eugene Sawyer was one of two black mayors of Chicago — said it’s “a little eye-opening” to see the current racial and ethnic breakdowns at City Hall but not necessarily cause for concern.
“I don’t think there’s any racial animus,” Sawyer said of Emanuel. “He just relies on the individuals he knows best.”