By Chinta Strausberg
In a meeting with Mayor Rahm Emanuel Tuesday, business icon Ed Gardner averted a mass protest on City Hall and emerged from the mayor’s office “some what optimistic” that African Americans will be included on construction sites throughout Chicago.
Accompanied by his long-time friend and confidante, Carl McFerren, Gardner, who said last Saturday if he had not heard from the mayor he would march on City Hall this week 10,000 strong, told reporters his position is simple.
All he wants is jobs for blacks on city construction sites especially in the African American community, and he made it clear that his fight is far from over.
“I want to see black men and women working on all construction sites throughout the city of Chicago,” said Gardner. He wants half the jobs on these sites to be held by blacks.
At a press conference held outside of the mayor’s City Hall Office, Gardner said he is “somewhat optimistic about his meeting with Emanuel.
He said the mayor “… seems to show some sign of being concerned about making a change. That is all I’m concerned about that the things are not like they have been for the past many years in the city of Chicago.”
Last Saturday when he spoke at a standing-room-only meeting with C.O.A.L. officials at BJ’s Market & Bakery Restaurant at 87th and Stony Island, Gardner said if the mayor didn’t meet with him by Wednesday, he and his supporters would march on City Hall the next day.
Today’s meeting averted a protest that could have proven embarrassing to Mayor Emanuel and just days before the Nov. 6th election. “The ball is in the mayor’s court…,” Gardner said.
“Chicago can be an example of what changes have to be made to see that Afro Americans get their share of contracts in this city and it certainly can be done,” Gardner said explaining that cities across this nation have similar problems.
“Some how it’s easy for the union people, I guess, to go around, because I don’t think they have an innate desire to not want blacks to work, but someone has an impediment that is stopping this from happening and I blame the mayor for allowing it to continue.”
Gardner blamed the mayor for not working with the aldermen and his staff to prevent this lack of blacks on the construction sites. “I am not going to stop at 87-years-old until it is corrected,” he vowed.
Mayor Emanuel told Gardner that the Red Line construction work is very important to him and that “many African Americans will be working on that project.”
Gardner said the mayor “will be dealing with the union folks right away, but they know all of the answers. They know what they are doing and what they are not doing.
“They know when I see a site with nothing but non-blacks in the middle of a black community that they sent the journeyman out to do this job. They know what they did. It’s nothing new,” said Gardner.
He vowed to continue his direct action against job sites that have no black workers but added, “Right now, the ball is in the camp of the mayor and the organization of C.O.A.L. who will be meeting with his people on the Red Line and also on future construction sites throughout the city of Chicago.”
Asked if he is going to shut down more job sites, Gardner made it clear. “Our job is not to shut down sites. Our job is to try to make life better for particularly African Americans.
“If that is the next stage that we have to take, we will take it. We will give the mayor a chance to move forward and showing me by actions, not by words, not by what he says he’s doing.”
While Gardner said the mayor did not know why there is a scarcity of blacks on construction sites, he says the evidence is crystal clear. “I walk the streets of Chicago. I will see if black men and women are working,” said Gardner.
Mayor Emanuel said he would be meeting with CTA Chairman Terry Peterson and members from the Coalition of African American Leaders (C.O.A.L.), which is headed by Clarence Wood.
Referring to C.O.A.L., Gardner said this organization has promised him they will see that blacks will get “an improved share of jobs throughout the city of Chicago.”
“They have accepted the mayor’s challenge to see that more blacks bid on contracts, more blacks have a fair share of getting those contracts” in a manner that would be smoother and more friendly process that in the past.
“They know that I know that I am not satisfied the history of how blacks have been eliminated from construction sites in the city of Chicago. It must be corrected,” Gardner told reporters.
Gardner told Mayor Emanuel, “As far as I am concerned, he is totally and finally responsible to see that this situation is corrected, and he promised me he would do as much as he possibly can to correct it. Time will tell.”
When told by reporters that elected officials have to live within the law and how could they achieve what he wants and live within the law, Gardner said, “…there are laws, but they are human beings.”
Gardner said he told the mayor, “Look, I put my life on the line in 1943 for this country.
They didn’t ask me if I lived East of Western or North of Western, whether I was black or white. I served my nation.
“I come back here and I see a thing 70-years later worst than what it was when I was struggling to be an American citizen trying to help this nation.”
Gardner said no matter what the laws are, it is the mayor’s responsibility to change that, which is preventing blacks from working on these construction sites. “If they are preventing black African Americans from getting their fair share of job opportunity, that is his responsibility to see that it’s changed.”
Asked if Mayor Emanuel committed to a percentage of jobs for blacks, Gardner said he wants half of those working on city construction sites to be African Americans.
Gardner said he is not against other ethnic groups working “but not at the expense of black families who can’t feed their children, young black men escaping into drugs and narcotics…no jobs and drug business very, very high and that should stop.”
Gardner told Mayor Emanuel that he holds him “personally responsible to bring about changes” and doesn’t see why unions can’t hire African American journeymen on city construction sites.
Having personally looked at several construction sites in black communities, Gardner said many times black contractors bid on jobs but are “bypassed” and “somehow those journeymen who somehow the unions send out are not African American. They can certainly bid cheaper preventing Afro American contractors from fairly getting their fair share of business.”
Two-weeks ago, Gardner held a jobs protest in Evergreen Park where more than 2,000 people joined him in support; however, Mayor James Sexton has been working with Gardner and the two major developers of the 92nd to 95th and Western construction site, Meijer’s and Menards, to get as many blacks hired as possible.