Aldermen press for more Olympic contracts

March 27, 2009 2:51:18 PM PDT
Chicago is just days away from a visit from the International Olympic Committee, but at city hall Friday, it wasn't so much about the visit, but about contracts for minorities and women if Chicago wins the bid to host the Games.Community residents and activists expressed anger and frustration Friday over the question of whether a last-minute compromise will really force Chicago's Olympic committee to increase construction set-asides for minorities and women.

"They disrespect the community. So, we have no choice but to oppose what's going on here," said Chicago resident Mark Carter.

"Now, the city council, a full city council won't see the ordinance until well after the IOC visit . Who knows if it will get voted up or down at that point?" said Rod Wilson of the Kenwood Oakland community organization.

The decision to raise the percentage of guaranteed participation from 25 percent minority and 5 percent women to 30 percent and 10 percent respectively came after several dissatisfied black aldermen threatened in a closed-door meeting to derail the long-awaited community benefits ordinance. The measure before the council's finance committee eventually passed by a unanimous voice vote.

"We were going to be as vigilant as we possibly could have been to make sure that it didn't happen," said Ald. Ed Smith, who represents the 28th Ward.

"We always had every intention of that goal. We felt it was important to reflect that so we chose to do that," 2016 Chicago President Lori Healey said.

The affordable housing set-aside would rise to 30 percent only if there's funding from the federal stimulus package, but it includes no guarantee of Olympic jobs for community residents.

That concerns former president of the Illinois State Senate Emil Jones, who happened to be in attendance for Friday morning's proceedings.

"The unions must open apprenticeships programs and have programs in the city accessible to those individuals so they can get the proper training," Jones said.

The IOC is set to visit Chicago next week, and for some, the sales pitch about the new set-asides and even the bid to get the Games themselves isn't working.

" The city is $260 million in the hole, and the state of Illinois is $9 billion in debt. So, where's the money coming from to guarantee a three-week party?" said Tom Tresser of the No Olympic Games Coalition.

The original community benefits ordinance included a 50 percent share of construction contracts for minorities, along with assurances of transportation improvements for the mid-South Side.

The full city council was set to consider the measure by the end of next month.