Battleground Chicago

The Germans and the Irish came first. Then the Italians and the Poles. White ethnics were Chicago, really. They walked the beat, collected the trash, built the city. But Chicago's most controversial migration happened later, during and after World War 11. Hundreds of thousands of Southern blacks, fleeing enforced segregation, moved in. And Chicago, after absorbing so many other newcomers, resisted. The stage, familiar in cities both North and South, was set: standoffish whites and shut-out blacks. Mayor Richard J. Daley, whose 21-year reign began in 1955, kept African-Americans out of his legendary machine, closing off contracts and patronage jobs.

Then came another era, one first of civil rights, later of quotas and set-asides. And blacks tried to regain lost ground-sometimes at the expense of whites.

The state of affirmative action in Chicago-long-frustrated blacks, newly frustrated whites-tells us much about the escalating national debate over racial and gender preferences in American life.

As always, it is a debate where both sides have a point, yet passionate polemics from the right and the left fail to explain how affirmative action really works. To cut through the tangle, NEWSWEEK examined four Chicago institutions (the city police, a. university, a minority contractor and a major company). At times, affirmative action means rigid quotas, which are simultaneously effective and destructive. In some cases, the profit motive drives aggressive minority recruitment. In others, success results only through an unusual convergence of impossible-to-legislate human factors. Here are the real faces the real winners and losers - beyond the political caricatures.

Of the 4,700 Chicago police officers who took the sergeant's exam last year, 43 percent were African-American. Yet only five of the 114 cops who won promotion were black.

Why so few? Some white police officers said years of police hiring preferences bid created a class of black and Hispanic officers who just weren't as talented as the whites. Blacks countered that the test itself was biased - and that the graders were racist. Gerald Hamilton, a college graduate with 10 years on the force, spent nearly six months getting ready for the exam, joining a study group at night and investing $100 on outside testing materials. After the test's first two parts --a written section and an "in-basket" exercise that simulates on-the-job decision making Hamilton ranked 313th, which was high enough for promotion. Then came the tape-recorded orals. Says Hamilton: "All of a sudden, my black voice is on that tape -- and my number falls to 1,000."

In the old days, Hamilton might still have made sergeant. From 1976 to '88 Chicago operated under a court-ordered affirmative action plan that imposed rigid quotas on hiring and promotions. The quotas angered white cops, provoking litigation and causing dissension in the police department that remains today. "It's a racial tinderbox," says a former aide to Mayor Richard M. Daley.

But by another measure, race and gender preferences in the Chicago police department have clearly worked. Since 1973 the force's share of minorities (mostly blacks and Hispanics) has jumped from 17 to 37 percent, and the cadre of women officers has grown from I percent to 17 percent. Diversity has helped relations with the black and Hispanic communities; it may even have averted some Rodney King incidents. The experience of the Chicago I force more minorities and more racial tension-raises an essential question about affirmative action: what is success?

The need for affirmative action in city employment is a legacy of the mayor's father, the late Richard J. Daley, and his patronage-based machine. "Our police and fire departments in the 1970s were closed clubs, " says Judson Miner, the top city-hall lawyer in the late '80s. "You got in based on who you knew." The Justice Department sued, and i n 1976 a federal judge ordered that 42 percent of all new hires, and 40 percent of all officers promoted to sergeant, had to be minorities. "Abhorrent to all Americans," the elder Daley said of the court ruling.

Officers began turning on each other. When Vance Kimber made sergeant in 1985, a white cop approached him and said, "You got my stripes." Kimber, a 10-year veteran of policing the city's toughest housing projects, shot back defiantly, "I earned it." One white officer remembers seeing a black sergeant hesitate before making a crucial decision at a crime scene. That led other white cops to taunt him to his face as a "quota sergeant." In 1988 a group of white officers sued the city for reverse discrimination, claiming they had been denied promotions they deserved. John Apel's strong scores placed him 360th on the 1985 sergeant's promotion list, but after blacks and Hispanics were moved up, he fell to 750. Apel, now 47, was crushed. "I did everything but go by the uniform," he says. "Time has run out for m, now. I'm ruined."

Daley junior came into office in 1989 determined to defuse the racial politics. He hired a consultant to devise a new sergeant's exam to increase the number of blacks and Hispanics without reviving quotas. It didn't work: those were the tests that led to only live minority promotions and infuriated cops like Gerald Hamilton. Some 300 African-American and Hispanic officers sued, claiming the dismal results proved the lest was flawed. In a city that is 59 percent minority, they argued, blacks and Hispanics must make up more than 29 percent of the 1.163 sergeants. "I try not to be paranoid," says Cynthia McCarroll, an eight year veteran. "But what are they trying to tell us? That minorities are not capable of being sergeant?"

Last month, Daley thought he discovered a middle way. The police department announced that 54 sergeants (virtually all whites) would be promoted to lieutenant on the basis of their test scores. and 13 other sergeants-including 8 minorities -would be elevated based on "merit" recommendations. The compromise backfired, generating a fresh round of anger on both sides. Many blacks urged returning to rigid numerical formulas. White cops who had been passed over for lieutenant to make room for the minority "merit" promotions promptly went to court. Daley aides now shrug. "Every time we promote, whites or blacks--or both--sue us," says legal counsel Susan Sher. Clearly, politicians cannot trick people into thinking affirmative action is cost-free by using pseudoscientific tests or formulas. All they can do is explicitly make the case that the benefits of a representative police force outweigh the costs.

Bob Cohn

With its stately campus along Lake Michigan, Northwestern University stands miles apart from downtown Chicago and the politics of black and white. The university first opened its doors to blacks more than 100 years ago, and it has been a leader in recruiting African-American students since the mid-1960s. Northwestern's black alumni, now numbering in the thousands, have gone on to succeed in business and the professions, and both they and the university itself regard NU's commitment to educating the next generation of upwardly mobile blacks as a proud and vital tradition. But that tradition is now in jeopardy - for after nearly three decades of affirmative action, the percentage of blacks in the Northwestern student body is no longer rising. In fact, it is slowly going down.

Specifically, blacks now constitute 6.1 percent of Northwestern's full-time undergraduate student body, down from 8.7 percent in 1987 and 11 percent for the entering freshman class back in 1975. While university officials profess no great concern about the current figure, the trend is clearly worrisome. Unless the drift can be reversed, Northwestern could someday revert to what it was in the 1950s: a prestige school that, except for the Asian-Americans who now make up 17 percent of its student body, verges on lily-white. That possibility is simply "unthinkable," says associate provost Rebecca Dixon, because Northwestern wants "a critical mass of any group that is of significance to society."

So the question is: how could a school that has been so committed to affirmative action wind up losing ground? One answer is that America's public-school systems simply do not produce enough African-American students who are ready for top-tier universities. In 1993, out of approximately 400,000 black high-school seniors nationwide, only 1,644 got combined scores of 1200 or better on the SATs, and only 8,256 scored between 1000 and 1200.

The shortage of high-scoring black kids forces colleges to compete for minority applicants-and in recent years, Northwestern has been outhustled by schools like Duke (8.8 percent black). Michigan (8.4 percent) and even by the University of Illinois (7.1 percent). The high cost of higher education plays a part. Northwestern, the only private school in the Big Ten, costs upwards of $22,000 a year, and restricts grant aid to strictly defined financial need. Some of its competitors, though, offer "merit" scholarships to high-scoring black kids. Competition from historically black colleges and universities is increasing. Four years at a highly competitive, majority-white institution like Northwestern can be stressful. Many blacks choose majority-black schools instead.

And the Northwestern campus is no one Is vision of interracial collegiality. Blacks and whites eat at separate tables and lead separate social lives, as they do at most big schools. Virtually all black undergraduates belong to a group called For Members Only (FMO), which is both a social and a political organization. When FMO staged a silent march to protest alleged misconduct by campus police last spring, the reaction from many white undergraduates was something like a shrug. One black undergraduate describes race relations as "a cold war." A 1986 white graduate puts it differently: "I don't remember any overt racial hostilities. You need a certain amount of contact to have hostilities."

Affirmative action at Northwestern has never been easy. In 1991 a campus conservative publication called The Northwestern Review claimed that the median SAT score for black students was 100 to 150 points below the NU undergraduate average, which was then about 1270. Rebecca Dixon takes issue with the charge that NU is being "unfair" to other groups by admitting blacks with lower scores. Dixon says NU's black students can and do compete academically-and that fully 79 percent graduate, which is the real bottom line.

The reality of minority admissions, at Northwestern and many of its competitor institutions, is marketing, not quotas. (The mere fact that Northwestern's numbers are slipping seems to show there is no quota there.) First, NU buys a list of black highschool seniors who scored over a certain level on the SATs. School official s won't reveal the cutoff point. But the ballpark figure for this year's African-American "prospect pool" is 11,000 kids nationwide, and that number suggests a cutoff somewhere around 1,000. The admissions office direct-mails NU brochures to all 11,000 and sends recruiters to 74 high schools around the country for interviews. After all that, NU this year 565 applications from blacks -but its "yield" next fall will probably be only about 120 blacks in an entering class of 1,856.

If the university wants to reverse the slide in its black enrollment, it could offer more generous financial aid or lower the cutoff-point, or both. It could also offer tutoring or remedial courses to black students whose preparation for college-level work is less than complete. None of these options is likely to be popular at a school that is moving up in the pecking order of American higher education, and it is not clear that Northwestern will change its policies at all. But its dilemma suggests that affirmative action has met the law of diminishing returns -and that Americans more than ever should turn to fixing their public schools.

Tom Morganthau

Conservatives deride them as grossly preferential treatment for minorities, liberals scoff that they're welfare for fat cats--and Bill Clinton says minority set-asides are one form of affirmative action that may have to go. But Larry Huggins says set-asides are the main reason for his success in the Chicago building trades, and he is a guy who should know. Now 45, Huggins grew up in a single-parent family and never went college. He started out in the 1970s as a painting contractor on Chicago's South Side, went bankrupt and fought his way back. Today his firm, Riteway Construction Services, Inc., is a $14 million-a-year roofing, painting and concrete-pouring business with a $3.5 million payroll and 120 employees. "Now is not the time to cut out affirmative action," he says. "We're just getting to the point where we're about to make a difference."

The Larry Huggins story contains two lessons that may surprise both critics and supporters of minority set-asides. The first is that set-asides can help a shrewd, determined black man rise from economic marginality to more-than-modest success. The second is that a good set-aside program consists of much more than dumping preferential contracts on people of color. Huggins and Riteway had little chance of success without an effective "mentor-protege" relationship with a white-owned Chicago company, Tribco Construction Co. Tribco and its president, Robert McCollam. provided Riteway with technical advice, handson supervision and crucial support in its dealings with the banks.

McCollam's business motive was simply to keep a share of city contracts under the set-aside program. But his decision to help Huggins was based on a working relationship that dated back to 1978. "Larry was one of the most cooperative guys I ever met, as far as his work as subcontractor went," McCollam says. "He always got I he job done on time, never griped. I thought, who better could we find?"

That three-year mentoring relationship ended in 1991, and Huggins is on his own today. He and Tribco still do business: they are partners in a joint venture to pour the concrete for an expansion of the Chicago Board of Trade. But Tribco does business with Riteway's competitors, and Riteway does business with Tribco's. Huggins now has $16 million worth of work lined up for 1995.

He also has a ready answer for those who say set-asides are charity for the black middle class. Huggins takes pride in the fact that fully $2.5 million of his $3.5 million payroll went into Chicago's black community. That's trickle-down economics. But given that his lowest paid workers get $900 a week and full union benefits, the trickle is nothing to sneeze at. "We don't turn around and discriminate against white workers," Huggins says. "I feel I have a moral responsibility to train people from our community, but the bottom line is, your best work force is a diverse work force. They could care less whether they work for a black firm, a Hispanic firm or a white firm." Contracting is a tough-guy business, and through the '70s neither unions were prepared to give anything away to blacks. Some still aren't: a construction-industry spokesman recently charged that the use of minority and women's firms drives up costs on city projects. It probably does--set-asides short-circuit true competitive bidding. But supporters of the program say the minority firms' share of the pie is small, and the city makes no apologies, "We don't care what Clinton does," says Gery Chico, Mayor Richard M. Daley's chief of staff. "We're not going to change, a thing."

Vern E. Smith

Ron McNeil, then a young black executive, will never forget his first day at Allstate Insurance in 1976. In those days, being an "Allstater" didn't just mean you worked for the nation's second largest insurer. It also meant you were virtually always a white, male, spit-andpolish suburbanite. Women who were with the company were not permitted to smoke at their desks. in the cafeteria the men sat with the men, the women sat with the women and the minorities... well, you get the picture. "I was told by one guy that I'd never make it at Allstate," McNeil remembers, "because I didn't play golf."

Since then. Allstate's work force has changed-and with it, the company's corporate culture. Like most American companies during the last two decades, the Northbrook, III.-based firm (annual revenues: $21 billion) has painstakingly increased the number of minorities add women on its staff-sometimes angering white men who are, passed over. But what's most striking about Allstate's affirmative action is that it wasn't forced by law but by the company's search for new customers in a highly competitive industry.

In the 1970s, Allstate had a problem. Insurers were saturating the traditional, largely white rural and suburban markets. Hunting new sales, the company focused on cities especially the burgeoning minority working and middle classes. And selling insurance in minority' neighborhoods, the company figured, was a job particularly well suited to minorities, just as selling insurance in the suburbs was best done by hometown agents who knew their customers from Little League and the Lions Club.

So Allstate stepped up recruiting at black colleges. Managers were bombarded with seminars about the virtues of minority hiring. In the 1980s the company voluntarily set aside one third of its promotions and a number of entry-level hires (depending on an office's location) for minorities and women. The results: the number of black agents doubled, from 5.3 percent in 1975 to 10.6 percent today. Company wide, black employment rose from 9.5 percent to 15 percent. And 25 percent of the company's officers are women or minorities today compared with a paltry 1.7 percent 20 years ago.

While other corporations' bouts with affirmative action have been more rancorous, such numbers have been good for Allstate. The company is now the No. 1 insurer in New York City and, tellingly, in Chicago's black community. That's because of people like Cheryl Green, a Chicago South Side native who came home five years ago to peddle Allstate. She immediately did a brisk business with old friends and neighbors. Last December she sent out a direct-mail brochure featuring a photograph of herself, the response has been tremendous. She now ranks in the top 1 percent of sales agents nationwide. "If there was a white agent across the street," says Green, "I think I'd get most of the business because I'm an African-American in an African-American community... and African-Americans want to support one another."

But on their way to diversity, the "Good Hands" people have occasionally dropped the ball. In 1976 the company was slapped with a class-action lawsuit files on behalf of 3,100 women claiming that Allstate systematically underpaid its female agents. (Some women were paid $175 less per month than men in the mid '70s.) The company, admitting no wrongdoing, settled the case for $5 million. Last year the company was accused of redlining refusing to sell or overcharging for insurance in minority neighborhoods in Atlanta, Chicago. Milwaukee and Louisville. Allstate denies the charges, adding that its heavy presence in urban markets leaves it open to redlining accusations. (Though unrelated, Allstate is caught up in another controversy a out hiring a consultant who used Church of Scientology methods to train agents.)

Affirmative action's winners are obvious: those the company has hired and promoted. The losers are the white males-some mediocre, some talented who would have risen faster under the old regime. They include respected Allstate executives like Andy Rieder, who says that if it weren't for affirmative action he probably would be an officer of the company today. Though he supports the principle of diversity, that hasn't stopped the soul-searching- and the quiet torment when he's been passed over for promotion. "It's easier to rationalize that someone got a job because of some preferential treatment," he says. "I've done that, and so have others at Allstate."

The disappearance of government-sanctioned affirmative action could have little consequence if companies realize what Allstate realized: hiring and promoting minorities can be good for the bottom line. "Diversity is a business issue, not a social issue, at Allstate," says Ron McNeil. He should know. He's risen to be the company's highest-ranking black. And what about that advice he got 20 years ago? "I still don't play golf," he says. Not that it matters anymore. Because today he sits on the company's board of directors.

Peter Annin

If raw numbers equal success in affirmative action, Chicago's police department is doing as well as or better than an average of some of the country's largest forces.

Police-force average for 50 largest U.S. cities MINORITY REPRESENTATION AS A PERCENT OF TOTAL FORCE 1983 1992 Black 12.4% 17.3% Hispanic 6.8 8.3 Women n.a. 11.6

MINORITY REPRESENTATION AS A PERCENT OF TOTAL FORCE 1983 1992 Black 20.1% 24.9% Hispanic 3.4 7.5 Women n.a. 16.0 ..MR.-

Source: UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA AT OMAHA, CRIMINAL JUSTICE DEPARTMENT ..MR0-

While the nation's four-year schools on the whole have made marginal improvements since the 1970s, Northwestern's black enrollment has actually declined

FOUR-YEAR COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES

1976 1992 White 84.4% 77.0% Hispanic 2.4 4.7 Asian 1.7 4.7 American Indian .5 .6 ..MR.-

SOURCE: NATIONAL CENTER FOR EDUCATION STATISTICS ..MR0-

The number of minority- and women-owned construction firms in Chicago grew dramatically during the 1980s, just as it did throughout the rest of the country.

U.S. CHICAGO 1972 59,875 573 1987 107,650 1,650

U.S. CHICAGO 1972 14,884 348 1987 94,308 1,610 ..MR.-

SOURCE: CENSUS BUREAU ..MR0-

It may have caused some hard feelings, but Allstate's self-imposed diversity program has changed the look of its work force at a faster rate than the rest of white-collar America

1975 1995 White 87.3% 76.5% Black 9.5 14.8

1975 1994 White 92.3% 89.7% Black 7.7 10.3 ..MR.-

SOURCES: ALLSTATE (DATA FOR WHITES AND BLACKS DOES NOT INCLUDE OTHER ETHNIC GROUPS): BUREAU OF LABOR STATISTICS (DATA FOR WHITES AND BLACKS INCLUDES HISPANICS, ASIANS AND OTHER ETHNIC GROUPS) ..MR0-

51% say local police forces should give minorities preference in hiring so that the police force would have the same racial makeup as the community

44% say local police forces should not give minorities preference

48% approve of government agencies setting aside 5% to 25% of their contracts for minority-owned businesses

44% disapprove of that policy

46% think blacks' status in the workplace would stay about the same without affirmative action

30% think it would get worse; 19% think it would get better

Battleground Chicago | News