American Renaissance

Asian Americans Vie for Contracts

Francine Knowles, Chic. Sun-Times, Mar. 24

Asian Americans fearful of being excluded from the city’s construction set-aside program called on Mayor Daley to support their continued inclusion as a two-day hearing on a court-ordered revamp of the program kicked off Tuesday.

“We’re here to say, don’t set aside Asian Americans,” said Tuyet Le, executive director of the Asian American Institute.

Judge James B. Moran ruled in December that the city’s program, which requires the awarding of 25 percent of construction contracts to minorities and 5 percent to women, must be revamped because it’s too broad. The ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed by the Builders Association of Greater Chicago, which sought to dismantle the program.

Moran cited several problems in the program. Among them, he said, is that while evidence is clear of discrimination against African-American-owned companies, it is virtually non-existent for Asians. That has raised concern among Asian businesses that they may be kicked out.

Those who want to dismantle affirmative action portray Asian Americans as well-educated, affluent and universally successful, said Le.

The use of that myth “masks our problems, problems that are a daily reality for our community, poverty, discrimination and the lack of opportunity,” she said. “Excluding Asian Americans from this program is part of a national trend at chipping away affirmative action, dividing disadvantaged communities by turning them against each other.”

Ernest C. Wong, president of landscape architecture firm Site Design Group Ltd., said 70 percent of his business comes from the city’s set-aside program.

“Without the set-aside program, I don’t think our firm would survive,” he said.

Eric Mah said that out of nearly two dozen projects his electrical contracting company has bid on in recent weeks, 19 of them were the result of affirmative-action goals.

He shared the story of working on a job site where other workers wore professionally printed stickers that proclaimed “Japan sucks.”

“This made for an extremely hostile job site,” he said. “ . . . It’s this mind-set that I have to contend with in construction.”

The city faces a June 29 deadline to revamp the program.

A Daley spokeswoman said the city wants “to include as many groups as possible . . . however, we also have to follow the court’s decision. Judge Moran did not find that there was discrimination against the Asian community. We are reviewing all of our options in light of his opinion.”

But Ald. Ed Burke (14th) said he believes the city’s attorneys have “misconstrued the decision” and he doesn’t interpret the judge’s ruling as an order to exclude Asian-owned businesses.

A mayoral task force, which is charged with rewriting the city’s affirmative action ordinance, is conducting the hearing to seek public input on how to adhere to Moran’s ruling.

Meanwhile, some testifying at the hearing welcomed the revamping of the program, charging that among black-owned businesses only a select few actually benefit.