The color of clout

The political machine that provided patronage jobs for political work, also kept black and Latino people from having as much job success as their white counterparts.

A Chicago Reporter analysis shows that the secret patronage scheme, which felled Mayor Richard M. Daley’s former patronage chief and three others in federal court earlier this month, did not heavily involve black and Latino people. And, when it did, racial minorities were not nearly as successful as their white counterparts.

Some say the results illustrate the lack of independent political power African Americans and Latinos have in Chicago.

The Reporter analyzed race information for the 5,743 people referred for city jobs between 1989 and 1997 on the secret hiring list revealed in federal court. The Reporter also analyzed race information for the individuals, wards and organizations that referred people on the list, often referred to as the “clout list.”

The Reporter’s investigation found that:

  • Of everyone who got a job, and their race was known, just 20 percent were black and 13 percent were Latino. Nearly 65 percent were white.
  • Referrals from black wards led to fewer than 3 jobs for every 10,000 registered voters in those wards, nearly three times lower than the citywide rate.
  • In all, 59 percent of the people referred were white. Among referrals from wards, two-thirds of the people referred were white.
  • Referrals from mixed wards resulted in jobs 53 percent of the time, compared with success rates of 49 percent for white wards, 41 percent for Latino wards and 40 percent for black wards.
  • Among individuals who made at least 30 referrals, the referrals from whites led to jobs 58 percent of the time, compared with 45 for referrals from Latinos and 36 percent for referrals from blacks.

    Leading the wards with the highest job rate was the 11th Ward, Daley’s longtime political base. Using the ward’s voter totals at the time of the 1995 mayoral election, the 11th Ward referrals resulted in 97 jobs per 10,000 voters, nearly 12 times higher than the citywide rate and a clear sign of the ward’s political strength. The next highest job rates were held by Alderman Ed Burke’s 14th Ward, Alderman Dick Mell’s 33rd Ward and the predominantly white 19th Ward on the far Southwest Side.

    It’s no surprise that the clout list is “blacklisted,” said Melissa Harris-Lacewell, a visiting associate professor in the department of politics and the program in African American studies at Princeton University. She also maintains an appointment in political science at the University of Chicago.

    Black aldermen hold tremendous power, but only within the highly segregated blocks and neighborhoods in the wards they oversee, said Harris-Lacewell. “In Chicago, there are always black people with power. But they are not the masses of black people.”

    Two aldermen, who say they’re politically independent, know their referrals would carry less weight in City Hall compared with “administrative aldermen,” who often agree with the mayor’s policies.

    “Racial equity is not a priority for this administration. That’s why we have these outcomes,” said 4th Ward Alderman Toni Preckwinkle, whose name did not appear on the clout list. Of the 5,743 names on the clout list, just three were referred from the 4th Ward, though not directly by Preckwinkle.

    In the past, she has leaned on colleagues such as Cook County Board President John H. Stroger Jr. to help get applicants into county jobs, she said.

    None of the clout list referrals came from Alderman Ricardo Munoz or his 22nd Ward. The 15th Ward was the only other ward that did not refer anyone on the list.

    Isaac Carothers, alderman of the 29th Ward, has the most referrals on the list among black aldermen, although the referrals were made prior to his election in 1999. Carothers would not validate the clout list and said he’s never seen it.

    “I’m not going to comment on the validity of any list that I’m not even familiar with,” said Carothers. “I’m not going to take that to be the gospel because they put a list in a court case and said this and said that.”

    The Reporter’s analysis shows that Carothers referred 98 people, of which 38 got jobs. Carothers contended that African Americans have not lost power in City Hall. He pointed to the success of 37th Ward Alderman Emma Mitts in getting the rezoning that will bring a Wal-Mart store to her ward, and the first ever in the city. In a heavily union-supported city, the discussion of having a Wal-Mart in Chicago was a contentious issue on the council, Carothers said. One proposal passed and another for Alderman Howard Brookins’ 21st Ward on the South Side failed.

    “I think this one passed as a result of the coalition [that Mitts and I] put together,” Carothers said. “I think it shows the power that we had in city council to make that happen.”

    The poor level of success for black people on the clout list could contribute to larger troubles, Harris-Lacewell argued. For one, the lack of clout keeps people without a college degree from getting city jobs that pay a decent salary and offer good benefits–jobs that would be difficult for them to get in today’s tight job market, she said. “The poverty, the crime, all that goes along with the inability to earn a living wage, not only affects an individual or household, but a whole community.”

    The lack of success could also prevent black people from getting the political clout needed to improve schools and force reinvestment in predominantly black neighborhoods, she added.

    Even some of the jobs that minorities were able to get were controlled by organizations that support Daley, such as the Hispanic Democratic Organization. Alderman Munoz said that jobs for Latinos have been monopolized by HDO referrals.

    The Reporter’s investigation shows that more than one in three Latinos on the clout list that got jobs was referred by the HDO or one of four top HDO leaders–Victor Reyes, Al Sanchez, Javier Torres, and Tony Munoz. Collectively, the HDO and those four HDO leaders referred 372 people on the list.

    “Because HDO [and the mayor] in the last three election cycles supported my opponents, there’s just no chance that anybody recommended by my office would even be considered,” said Alderman Munoz.

    The referrals from the HDO and its leaders resulted in jobs 44 percent of the time. And Latinos were the recipients of 86 percent of those jobs.

    However, the organizations with the most clout appear to be Chicago’s labor unions–and blacks and Latinos were not often the beneficiaries of union might.

    Collectively, unions referred 677 people on the list, with 65 percent of those referrals resulting in jobs. Whites got 81 percent of those jobs. Overall, 51 percent of the 5,743 referrals on the clout list resulted in jobs.

    Frank Coconate, a longtime city worker who himself is listed on the clout list, estimates that roughly 80 percent of the people on the list did political work. The others who sought jobs were typically relatives of the people who referred them, said Coconate, a vocal critic of Daley, especially since he was fired from his city job after more than 28 years an employee.

    The political work typically involved gathering signatures for nominating petitions and visiting the homes of hundreds of voters over several weeks during each election cycle, Coconate said. Doing political work for one election cycle might have gotten you on the clout list, Coconate said, but it often took two or three election cycles of political work to get the desired job.

    He said the political work was often managed by higher operatives, called “coordinators,” who held meetings with the political workers to chart their progress and report to others in the administration on how hard they were working. Doing good political work could be rewarded with a job, Coconate said. But he said it could also buy people “insurance” that might save them from being fired, suspended or demoted if they got in trouble on the job.

    “They have to go all the way to the top for this to change,” said Preckwinkle. “And I think [U.S. Attorney] Pat Fitzgerald is already on his way there.”

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