An influential alderman warned Metra’s executive director on Thursday that “people are going to get hurt” if the commuter rail agency fails to bolster minority participation on a $133 million South Side railroad bridge known as the “Englewood Flyover.”
Ald. Anthony Beale (PICTURED), chairman of the City Council’s Transportation Committee, did not explain who he believed would “get hurt” or who the perpetrators might be. But, he was clearly referring to civil disobedience or maybe even violence at the construction site.
“I’m trying to help you help yourself. When I say that, problems could arise. When you look at a community like Englewood [that] is challenged and you have over $1 billion of work coming through and there’s no people of color working on that project, I’m afraid people are going to get hurt,” Beale told Clifford during Thursday’s committee hearing.
“When you look at the make-up of the community — when you look at the unemployment rate … in that particular community, it’s probably 35, almost 40 percent. … To have a contract come like this in the African-American community with less than one percent minority participation is an insult.”
Clifford said he “respects and appreciates” Beale’s point. But, he also stood his ground, arguing that Metra has “not done anything wrong” and “followed federal statutes to the letter.”
As required by federal law, Metra established a 25 percent benchmark for “disadvantaged business enterprises,” a category that includes any business with an annual net worth that does not exceed $1.32 million, Clifford said. That means small businesses as well as those owned by minorities and women.
“By federal statute, we are not allowed to set a minority target. If a bidder comes in and achieves that goal — 25 percent DBE — they have met the federal mandate. The federal mandate is what I must follow and I will not violate the law,” Clifford said.
Earlier this year, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Chicago) was threatening to stop Metra “in its tracks” unless black contractors get a piece of the pie.
Rush went public after getting a tip from a Metra source that none of the major bidders for the first $86 million in Englewood Flyover work included African-Americans. The only black participation is a security contract worth $110,000, the congressman said.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Il.), Gov. Pat Quinn and Mayor Rahm Emanuel all supported the end sought by Rush without justifying the means: a threat to shut down the project if minority contractors don’t get their fair share.
After a Metra board meeting that attracted dozens of sign-carrying protesters, Metra put off awarding the contract to the low-bidder — Elgin-based IHC Construction Cos. LLC — until at least June 15 in hopes of resolving the issue to everyone’s satisfaction.
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