• Erin Hegarty
    OCT 18, 2021

    Latino aldermen redouble push for racial parity in hiring as Lightfoot digs in

    Members of the City Council Latino Caucus speak during a press conference the morning of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s budget address. [Don Vincent/The Daily Line]

    As budget negotiations heat up, leaders of the City Council Latino Caucus are hoping their proposal for a “Hispanic Inclusion Plan” will push the city closer to racial parity among city employees, particularly those in top leadership positions. 

    The resolution was filed days after the caucus held a contentious meeting with Lightfoot, in which the mayor rejected a 10-part list of demands the caucus put in front of her. 

    Their push this month is not new, as Latino Caucus leaders in August identified racial parity in hiring as one of their top priorities  for the 2022 budget.  

    Related: Latino Caucus leaders to prioritize economic recovery, racial parity in 2022 budget 

    Members of the Latino Caucus have also used committee confirmations of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s various appointments to advocate for more Latino representation among city ranks and voted against an O'Hare Airport concession agreement, citing the city for not doing enough to attract Latino firms to get involved. 


    Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36), chair of the Latino Caucus and Lightfoot’s former floor leader, is the head sponsor of a resolution (R2021-1077) introduced last week calling for the establishment of a Latino advisory council and "Hispanic Inclusion Plan.”The resolution uses the “whereas” section to note that the 2020 Census shows Latinos account for about 31 percent of Chicago’s population and that “during the 2022 Budget Hearings, the City's Department of Procurement Services stated that only 13 percent of the City's contracting opportunities were awarded to Latinos in 2020.” 

    The resolution is also sponsored by Latino Caucus vice-chair Ald. Silvana Tabares (23), Ald. Andre Vasquez (40), Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10), Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22), Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25), Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26), Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30) and Ald. Felix Cardona (31). 

    Resolution sponsors propose a Latino advisory council and “Hispanic Inclusion Plan” they say would help ensure the city is making progress on hiring Latino employees and companies. The advisory council would also help to “strengthen the pipeline to trade employment by establishing partnerships and professional career efforts,” according to the proposal. 

    Additionally, the advisory council would work with the mayor’s administration to publish annual or twice-annual reports on Latino hiring “since [Human Resources] is under their purview,” Villegas said. 

    Racial parity is “important to measure,” Villegas said. “The reality is we can’t just continue to wait and then ‘surprise’ at the end of the year, we have the same results. We have to force change.” 

    “We’re going to continue to advocate, and we’re going to continue to push because it’s our job as Latino aldermen to make sure we’re represented within the budget — whether through employment, contracts or funding for not-for-profits,” he continued. “It’s our job to advocate for community representation.” 

    Villegas said the proposal for a city Hispanic Inclusion Plan could be similar to Illinois’ Hispanic Employment Plan, which was also “born out of frustration” in representation. The state’s Hispanic Employment Plan also includes an advisory council and requires the publishing of an annual report on Hispanic representation in state government.  

    Villegas said it would likely be easier to implement such a plan in Chicago since the “bulk” of Illinois Latino residents live in the northeast corner of the state. 

    The advisory council would include unpaid voluntary positions potentially filled by community members. “We have relationships in the Latino community, and we can cast a net as wide as possible,” Villegas said.  

    Lightfoot rebuffs Latino Caucus budget requests 

    City department budget hearings wrapped up more than a week ago, and now that aldermen are armored with more details on budget line items and overall spending, they are individually and as caucus members negotiating with Lightfoot’s administration on what the final budget proposal will include. 

    During a meeting on Tuesday, Villegas and eight other members of the Latino Caucus presented the mayor with a 10-part list of line-item requests for the budget, including $100 million to boost mental health services and boosts to the ward offices’ operating budgets and infrastructure menu money. Lightfoot did not budge, according to people who attended the meeting. 

    The Tribune first reported details of the meeting, including by saying she was “offended” by a “report card” the caucus rolled out earlier this year to criticize the Lighfoot administration’s record on Latino hiring. 

    “At that meeting the mayor did not seem open to any criticism in any way, shape or form,” said Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35), adding that he understands Lightfoot can point to the city’s Corporation Counsel Celia Meza and Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez as Latinos in top city positions. 

    “Those are positive things, and she should be able to lift them up,” Ramirez-Rosa said. “But data shows the parity is not there.” 

    Ramirez-Rosa suggested Lightfoot could have accepted the critique and committed to doing better, but instead “the mayor said that she was insulted” the Latino Caucus members brought the criticism. 

    “When someone makes it personal, it makes it difficult to move beyond that,” Ramirez-Rosa said, adding that the meeting was “emblematic of the way the mayor approaches governing.” 

    Ald. Andre Vasquez (40), who also attended the meeting, told The Daily Line that he “didn’t feel like we were heard” as “representatives of the city and members of the caucus that represent the Latino community.” 

    Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26) said he did not attend last week’s caucus meeting with Lightfoot but said he “was not surprised by her reaction because it was similar to the reaction that she had when I was chair of the caucus” between 2019 and earlier this year. 

    “We are severely underrepresented when it comes to having Latinos and Latinas in positions of power,” Maldonado said. “I don't think she sees herself as one that has failed in that area.” 

    Maldonado took issue with Lightfoot’s touting of her track record in appointing “more Latinos than anybody else in the past,” saying “I don't know in what world she lives in, but that is not the truth.” 

    It’s one thing to have Latino representation among staffers or intergovernmental affairs, but hiring Latino commissioners is also important, Maldonado said. 

    “It makes a big difference, and that attitude has not changed,” he said. 

    While members of the Latino Caucus noted some budget priorities may vary by ward, racial parity in hiring will be a major push for most.  

    Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22) said he believes it is “universal across our caucus” that “the Latino Caucus stands united behind equity and representation in government leadership.” 

    Rodriguez said the guaranteed basic income pilot program proposed by Lightfoot is a big priority for him heading into next year. Additionally, “more strategic funding in the immediate issues everyday working people” face is important, he said. 

    Villegas earlier this year proposed an ordinance to establish a guaranteed basic income program, but the plan never passed out of committee. But Lightfoot included a similar program in her budget proposal.  

    Related: Affordable housing overhaul clears City Council; Basic income proposal knocked off track 

    “The mayor has taken [guaranteed basic income] and put it into the budget, which I think is a good thing. However, there are things in the budget I cannot support right now,” Villegas said, adding that he wonders if it is possible to separate the basic income program from the rest of the budget for a vote. 

    “I work for the residents of my ward,” Villegas said. “My constituents I represent have a lot more clout than any commissioner or elected official.” 

    “It’s time to really have a serious discussion on the timing on” the property tax increase tied to the Consumer Price Index, “and is this the right time to do it,” Villegas said, adding he is aware Lightfoot’s administration is qualifying the increase as small, but “it’s the principle, the perception, the optics.” 

    Revenue-generating ideas proposed earlier in the year were “not taken into consideration,” Villegas said. “We need to stop doing that.” 

    Villegas suggested looking at an additional $100 million in tax-increment financing surplus to “stave off” the consumer price index increase this year as residents are still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.  

    Alex Nitkin contributed reporting.

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