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County's race report card finds boss' color matters

Tuesday, May 17, 2005
Chicago Sun-Times

Talk about bull. On Monday, Cook County Commissioner Roberto Maldonado called the county's
workplace diversity "shocking" after the county's first-ever report card of diversity in county
offices was released. Not surprisingly, the figures showed while Hispanics make up 20 percent of
the county population, they comprise only 8 percent of the county work force.

That ought to put to rest the perception that Hispanics are taking over all the jobs, a charge I
often hear from people who are frustrated because they can't find work.

That Hispanics are still lagging behind blacks and whites employed in county government is not
surprising. Give it some time. The more Hispanics are elected to county offices, the more slots
Hispanics will fill.

No, what was really surprising was the nuances of race the tally revealed.

According to the report released by the county, whites make up 48 percent of the population;
blacks, 26 percent; Hispanics, 20 percent, and Asians, 5 percent. With few exceptions, the race of the person heading up the county office seemed to be the best indicator of how many jobs went to people of that race.

For instance, only Cook County President John Stroger, Recorder of Deeds Eugene Moore and Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown -- all of whom are black -- have filled half of the high-paying
professional jobs in their offices with minorities. Stroger has the most diverse staff, with 48
percent black employees, 4 percent Hispanic, 16 percent Asian (the largest percentage in county
government) and 30 percent white.

But Stroger also has the worst record when it comes to the Forest Preserve District, a department that also falls under his jurisdiction. Seventy percent of the people working for the Forest Preserve are white, compared with 22 percent black, 7 percent Hispanic, 0 percent Asian and 1 percent other.

So, who is really running the Forest Preserve District?

Orr shines in hiring practices

According to the county's own records, the color of the person in charge is a good indicator of
whether a job seeker gets through the door. Brown's office has a tad more blacks (43 percent) than whites (42 percent), and nearly the same number of Hispanics (8 percent) as Asians (6 percent).

On the other hand, in Moore's office, African Americans make up 63 percent of the work force
compared with whites, 26 percent; Hispanics, 6 percent; Asians, 2 percent, and others 3 percent.

The situation is reversed when whites are in charge.

Seventy percent of the staff in Cook County State's Attorney Dick Devine's office are white
compared with 16 percent black, 9 percent Hispanic and 4 percent Asian. The same disparity is
evident in Assessor James Houlihan's and Treasurer Maria Pappas' offices. For Houlihan it is 62
percent white, 26 percent black, 10 percent Hispanic, 1 percent Asian; for Pappas it's 56 percent
white, 27 percent black, 8 percent Hispanic and 8 percent Asian.

David Orr, who is white -- but was dubbed an honorary black politician during the Harold Washington years -- has a 63 percent minority makeup. I'm not surprised by that, because Orr has enjoyed the loyal support of African Americans. African Americans wouldn't be shy about going down to his office and asking for a job.

New Orleans' failed experiment

Still, changing the racial make-up of county government to reflect the population isn't a simple
matter of doing what's right.

When New Orleans' first black district attorney, Eddie Jordan, tried to change the racial makeup of the district attorney's office, he was sued in federal court for discrimination. Last month, a jury that included two blacks found that Jordan discriminated against 43 white employees when he took office in 2003.

The defendants argued that Jordan fired the white employees because of their race. Jordan had
argued that he wanted the office to reflect the makeup of his district. I suppose he could have
waited until white lawyers moved on to other jobs and then replaced them with black lawyers, but that could have taken years.

And political hirings are not unique to Chicago, folks. After winning an election, politicians are
expected to reward their allies. Jordan hired black lawyers, child support enforcement workers,
legal assistants and clerks. Of the 77 white employees at the district attorney's office when he
arrived, 43 were terminated.

Although Jordan maintained he did not use race as a factor in his hiring practices, the jury didn't
buy it and awarded the white workers $1.9 million in back pay and damages. Still, where were all
these black lawyers and legal assistants before Jordan took office? Why weren't they being hired in a district that is overwhelmingly black? These black professionals were locked out of the process until Jordan took office.

Judging by the snapshot of diversity in Cook County government, public officials here have found a way around the Jordan problem.

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