Meeks apologizes for 'bad choice of words'

December 16, 2010 (CHICAGO)

Senator Meeks was speaking to the predominantly African American audience of WVON Radio about city government set-asides for minority contractors.

"I think that the word 'minority' from our standpoint should mean African American. I don't think that women, Asians and Hispanics should be able to use that title," said Sen. Meeks.

"With due respect to my colleague Rev. Senator Meeks, I find his comments reprehensible," said Ill. Senator Martin Sandoval, (D) Chicago.

Senator Sandoval leads a parade of politicians -- including some of the reverend senator's opponents in the race for Chicago mayor -- outraged by the Meeks statement.

"I hope that he will take a look at his comments and investigate not only what the law says but the intent of the law," said Carol Moseley Braun, candidate for mayor.

"I think the initial impact was to divide us. And I don't want to divide us, I want one Chicago," said Gery Chico, candidate for mayor.

By early afternoon Thursday, Senator Meeks issued a statement in support of set-asides for women and non-black minority contractors.

"People are making much ado about nothing," said Senator Meeks.

Meeks apologized for--as he put it--"a bad choice of words". The point he says is that African Americans receive only 70 percent of city contracts and have been criminally shortchanged by minority front companies.

"The federal government has deemed that this program is a corrupt one and we need to fix this program," said Sen. Meeks.

The controversy has raised the issue of minority set-asides in a deficit-ridden city pressured to make the best deal possible for taxpayers. All the candidates ABC7 interviewed agreed affirmative action programs for businesses are still necessary.

"You have an obligation to make sure there's fairness in the way these contracts are let," said Mosely Braun.

"These companies have been discriminated against. It's in the record in the federal courts and we need to redress that," said Chico.

Senator Meeks is also drawing fire from the Women's' Business Development Center in Chicago. Co-president Hedy Ratner reportedly is "furious" at Meeks. Ratner says the current city law has a five percent set-aside for women that she says should be much higher.

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