CITY HALL — City leaders must do more to increase the number of Latinos employed by the City of Chicago — and stop "pandering" to the city's newly minted second-largest ethnic or racial group, the chairman of the City Council's Latino Caucus said Wednesday.
With Human Resources Commissioner Soo Choi in front of the Council to field questions about her department's 2018 budget, caucus chairman Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) demanded that she do more to ensure the city hires more Latinos. He made his point next to a sign that read "Help Wanted — Latinos Need Not Apply" embellished with two red Chicago stars.
"I'm talking about parity, no longer diversity, parity," Villegas said, adding that the number of Latinos employed by the city has not changed as the city’s demographics have.
While Latinos made up 29.7 percent of Chicago's population in 2016, they hold only 15 percent to 17 percent of jobs with the city or its sister agencies, such as the CTA and Chicago Public Schools, Villegas said.
Promising aldermen that she would redouble her efforts to increase the number of blacks and Latinos employed by the city, Choi said she was in the process of hiring a chief diversity officer — at an annual salary of $90,000 — to spearhead that push.
Choi also told aldermen she planned to hire an outside firm to increase the number of Latino applicants for jobs.
Villegas' sign led 34th Ward Ald. Carrie Austin, chairwoman of the Budget and Government committee in charge of the daylong hearing, to rebuke Villegas for focusing on Latino employment rather than minority employment.
Since 2000, Chicago's black population has dropped by more than 250,000 people — 40,000 last year alone — according to the most recent U.S. Census figures. There are now 793,852 black Chicagoans, about 29.3 percent of the population, according to the Census. City officials did not immediately have figures on the percentage of city and sister agency employees that are African-American.
Villegas said the city has not held recruitment efforts on the Northwest Side, where the Latino population has skyrocketed.
"They are not doing a good job of reaching out to our communities," Villegas said. "These are solid, middle-class jobs, well-paying jobs. I want them in my community."
The strained moment between Austin and Villegas, who was elected in 2015, came after tensions between the Latino and African-American members of the Council ratcheted up a day earlier on Tuesday. That came during a debate over City Clerk Anna Valencia's request for another $1 million to implement a plan to offer Chicago's undocumented immigrants, the homeless and those with a criminal record a municipal identification card.
Several African-American aldermen oppose the card — calling it a "waste of money" — while it has been championed by the Latino and progressive caucuses as necessary to protect undocumented immigrants and help recently incarcerated people and homeless men and women.
"Madam clerk, I think you found the secret sauce on how to get some of my colleagues [to be] fiscal hawks throughout this municipal budget," Villegas said Tuesday. "All you’ve got to do is attach a municipal ID line-item to every item, and we’ll see all these questions related to the expenditures."
Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who is widely expected to run for re-election in 2019, has made a point of championing Chicago's Latinos by repeatedly vowing to fight President Donald Trump's efforts to force Chicago to give up its self-proclaimed status as a "sanctuary city" or face the loss of federal grant money.
"This administration is pandering to our community right now as we come up on election time," Villegas said. "If you want to be with us, be with us."