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Post Economic Segregation: Chicago
Created by John Eipper on 02/26/15 7:21 AM

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Economic Segregation: Chicago (David Duggan, USA, 02/26/15 7:21 am)

For many years from the 1960s forward, Chicago was regarded as the most racially segregated city in the United States, and nothing that has happened recently would suggest that has changed (although you wouldn't know it from looking at the microcosm extant at my address: I have one African-Jamaican-American tenant, and two Latinas [one of whom has Portuguese-Goan ancestry] living under the same roof of my "front building").

The reasons for this racial segregation are both historical (southern blacks moved into the near south side [around 33rd Street] during WWI: the housing stock there was old and decrepit, not having been destroyed during the Chicago Fire of 1871) and institutional: political boundaries were drawn to allow for safe "black" or "Hispanic" districts for representatives to the City Council, Cook County Board, state legislature and Congress. Once one member of these minority groups had ascended the ladder to elective office, he was loath to move out of the 'hood which had given him his power base. This phenomenon was also true of "ethnic" whites: there were Polish, Jewish and Italian districts to Congress. (Remember Dan Rostenkowski, Sid Yates and Frank Annunzio?)

As a lawyer, I had intimate familiarity with these racial issues through several cases tried in Federal Court. The first was an EEOC case brought against a Polish-Ukrainian owned metal-bending company on the predominantly black west side of Chicago which in some 80 hiring decisions had not hired a black person for any of its shop-floor jobs. The EEOC's expert, Pierre deVise, had made a reputation thumping the tub of "most racially-segregated city [and suburbs]" for many years from his academic perch at Roosevelt University. He was always good for a quote in the popular press which lapped up his annual surveys of the economics of living in whites-only Kenilworth as against blacks-only Robbins. DeVise (who was not a statistician) testified that the probability of hiring no blacks in 80 decisions when blacks comprised ~40% of the workforce was about zero, unless there was a discriminatory hiring process. The District Court judge agreed, and the Federal Court of Appeals affirmed (over one dissent).

Several years later, I was representing some Black Gangster Disciples in Federal criminal cases and was shocked that the jury pool was so heavily tilted in favor of whites from DuPage, Lake and Will Counties, predominantly white, bedroom "collar counties" surrounding Chicago. How, I thought, could a legal system claim any moral legitimacy when the triers of fact were not part of the ethnic group on trial? Well, the Federal Court Clerk drew potential jurors solely from voting rolls and Illinois had a system of striking from the rolls those who hadn't voted in several election cycles, or those who had moved (ostensibly to prevent "ghost voting," a practice perfected in Chicago). So, blacks, who moved more frequently and tended not to vote unless someone of their ethnicity was on the ballot, were disenfranchised. Enter the Federal "motor voter" act under which drivers' license examiners were also to register voters. Illinois, then under a Republican governor, challenged this law saying it was an "unfunded mandate."

I filed a motion to invalidate the Federal Court's jury-pool selection method saying, hey, the Federal government is seeking to enforce broader voter registration, and yet the Clerk is drawing the potential jurors solely from voter rolls. Though one branch of the Department of Justice successfully required Illinois to comply with the motor-voter law, another branch of the DoJ successfully resisted my motion. I still haven't figured that one out.

Economic segregation was a sub-issue in the Chicago mayoral "primary" election on Tuesday. Four challengers to Rahm Emanuel, to varying degrees, lamented the mayor's ties to the fat-cats from Hollywood (his brother is uber-agent Ari Emanuel), Wall Street (he was once an "investment banker"), and DC (he was Obama's chief of staff), and called him "Mayor 1%." Curiously, those four challengers (with the incumbent) largely reflected Chicago's ethnic mix: 2 were black, 2 white and 1 Hispanic. Well, Mayor 1% did not get the 50%+1 votes needed to avoid a run-off, and Chicago will have its first run-off election in the 25+ years since Chicago municipal elections became "non-partisan" affairs. (In 1983, Harold Washington won the Democratic primary against incumbent Jane Byrne and challenger Richie Daley-there's a story there about the Daley-Byrne animus that I may reveal later; then Washington beat a Republican candidate, Bernie Epton.)

Though Obama came to Chicago last week to shill for Emanuel, more than 50% of the voters dissed him, showing that at best he's yesterday's news. (Hopefully, the Obama Library selection committee will return the favor and we will be rid of him.) The lead challenger, Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, got 35% of the vote, far eclipsing the Hispanics' 20% of the electorate.

Economic striation is undoubtedly derivative of Chicago's racial segregation, so I don't find it unusual that Chicago makes the top-10 in the economic segregation category. My zip code (60657) and Ward (32) are supposedly the wealthiest in the City, but you wouldn't know it from my tax return which I'm laboring over. But statistics are made up of data points, and from my curbside observations, it ain't as bad as it once may have been (witness my tenants and neighbors). What interests me, however, is the role that zoning laws have on economic segregation: Chicago's zoning laws are among the most restrictive, and yet (at least years ago when I was studying political science), Houston had no zoning laws, and let the market decide whether a 60-story skyscraper would be erected next to a tear-down hovel. Both cities make this top-10 list of putative shame (I can't speak for any of the other Texas cities).

That Orlando, a cobbled-together burg of gated and riparian golf-course communities and theme parks is on the opposite list may not be surprising. After all, the multi-ethnic Tiger Woods lives there, along with all the other cartoon characters. We all know that cartoons are both economically and racially non-discriminatory.

JE comments:   I have a pitch for David Duggan's next book:  expand on the above, and add his numerous other anecdotes of Chicago legal, political, and cultural history.  Terkel (Studs) and Duggan (David) don't share much in the way of politics, but they have the same narrative gift.


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  • House Hunting in Chicago (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 02/26/15 1:25 PM)
    It's been a very interesting discussion about segregated cities/areas in the US. Maybe my experience will be of interest.

    When I moved to Chicago, at first my company kept me in a hotel downtown near the office. At first the Sheraton and then a Best Western with a very good Italian restaurant.


    So I had time to look around and find a house to buy. My good friends were very helpful and clear with their help and instructions. The first difficulty was that at the time, by Italian law, I could not move money from Italy, so it was rather difficult to get the minimum down payment for a mortgage.


    Anyway they told me that with my future income I should limit myself to two areas: the Northwest and the West. Forget the North on the Lake as it was too expensive. This is where the clients for my wife's business tended to come from. My Chicago friends also told me to avoid the South, as it was too poor and segregated.


    They recommended that I should get a house with a basement for weather safety reason, rather than with the garage (and once the gasoline froze), and to keep only one family car, so the house should be within walking distance to the railway station, best if in front of a park.


    Furthermore the house should be close to a Catholic School for my daughter.


    I was also told that in Illinois there was an old state law by which the house of a foreigner could be confiscated after ten years if the owner had not yet become a citizen, so I had to make a US trust owner of my house. I wonder if such a law is still is on the books.


    Finally I found the right location in the Northwest and I had a fantastic time thanks to all who so kindly helped me.


    The old Italian area was west of us, and once in a while we went to visit the Italian priest and Church.


    On Sunday, after Mass, quite often we would go to Chicago, passing by Cabrini Green until some friends told us that it was one of the most dangerous places around Chicago, but we were just passing by and nobody, by day, bothered us.


    We also went South to attend services in some of the African-American Churches.  Often we were the only whites but we always felt welcome.


    JE comments:  Chicago's Cabrini-Green, together with Pruitt-Igoe in St Louis, became symbols of the failure of urban high-rise housing projects:  the "end of modernism."


    David Duggan will know about the Illinois foreign property law.  I cannot imagine it still exists, or is enforced.


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