CHICAGO (CBS) – There was another new twist Friday in the flap over state Sen. James Meeks comments about who should and should not get a boost in city contracting.
Earlier this week, Meeks, who is running for mayor, said in a radio interview that only African-American companies should be included in the city’s minority contract set aside program. He said Latinos, Asians and women should be excluded.
On Friday, his campaign spokesman said Meeks didn’t mean to exclude anyone.
Meeks spokesman Bryan Zises told CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine Friday that Meeks meant to say African Americans are lagging far behind minority- and women-owned businesses when it comes to the set-aside program. He said Meeks believes African-American firms need extra help when it came to bidding on city jobs.
But that’s not what Meeks said in an interview on WVON Radio this week.
“I think that the word minorities from our standpoint should mean African Americans,” Meeks said. “I don’t think women, Asians and Hispanics should be able to use that title.”
Latino groups and women’s groups were quick to jump on Meeks for that comment.
On Friday, Ald. Ricardo Munoz, who is supporting Meeks’ mayoral rival, City Clerk Miguel del Valle, said, “There was another politician who said quote me on what I mean, not what I say and it could have worked in the 60′s and 70′s. It doesn’t work today.”
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Another mayoral candidate, Gery Chico – who was endorsed by the Italian American Political Coalition on Friday – said he accepted Meeks’ explanation of what he said, but Chico wasn’t crazy about what he meant either.
“James Meeks’ point is not a small one; we can do better and we must do better,” Chico said. “But the way to get there is not by excluding others. We have to be one city and … move ahead together.”
Meeks’ comments on minority contracting weren’t his only controversial remarks during that WVON interview.
On the same radio program, Meeks had also charged mayoral rival Rahm Emanuel with keeping African-American leaders out of the White House when he was President Barack Obama’s chief of staff.
The race-charged rhetoric seemed to contradict the symbolism of Meeks’ “50 wards in 50 days” campaign and reminded some of his sermons that linked City Hall to slavery and racism, and his use of the N-word when railing about neglecting inner city schools.
“I’m not proud of the fact that I used the N-word, but I am proud of the fact that I have not lost the fire,” Meeks said. “Because our children have to be educated.”
Munoz said, “It’s obvious he doesn’t want to be mayor of the whole city of Chicago and that’s what’s really scary. Because he wants to be that mayor – the mayor running for (only) the African-Amerian vote. And that’s very, very disheartening.”
Meeks was a long shot to begin with, considering his conservative stance on some social issues, such as his recent vote against civil unions for same-sex couples.
But with the backing of Republican leaders and money, he had the potential and maybe the charisma to build an interesting coalition.
But now, given the uproar of his comments on WVON, Meeks suggestion during that same interview that the African-American mayoral candidates unite behind the one with the best chance of winning, seems strangely prophetic.