Backgrounds of Two Senators Underscore Spat over Hiring
Kevin McDermott Illinois State Correspondent, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
As two state senators directed angry speeches at each other last week on the issue of affirmative action, their own backgrounds may have illustrated the debate better than their rhetoric.
One, Sen. Walter Dudycz, R-Chicago, is a white detective in the Chicago Police Department. He has spent the last 20 years watching minority co-workers rise through the police ranks faster than white colleagues who appeared more qualified.
"My father was a prisoner of war of the Nazis. Does that give me the right to seek preferential treatment today?" asks Dudycz, who is pushing legislation that could scrap scores of affirmative action programs in Illinois. "You cannot justify individual (reverse) discrimination based on past class discrimination."
The other, Sen. Rickey Hendon, D-Chicago, is a black TV and movie producer who got his broadcast training 20 years ago through an affirmative action program. He was once pulled over by a police officer because, the officer told him, he was curious about his Senate license plates.
"Black people still have policemen pull us over for no reason. We still feel the sting of discrimination," says Hendon.
"Sen. Dudycz needs to think about what he's saying," Hendon added. "This is going to be a bitter, racially divisive fight."
It already is, and it has barely started.
Dudycz lit the fuse in March, when he introduced a bill to bar racial or sex discrimination in public employment, education or contracting. The deliberately innocent wording, Dudycz acknowledges, strikes at the heart of affirmative action policies, which are aimed at giving women, minorities and the disabled extra leverage in some state jobs and contracts.
The Republican majority leadership, perhaps seeing a no-win confrontation in the bill, moved the whole issue into a subcommittee headed by Dudycz.
After public hearings in Chicago and Springfield, Dudycz issued a 68-page report recommending the establishment of a task force to reconsider all the state's affirmative action policies. The Senate last week approved the establishment of the task force after a bitter debate between Dudycz and black lawmakers. The House will pick up the issue in January.
A preview of the coming fight was seen during last week's debate on the Senate floor, when Hendon made an angry, obscenity-laced speech calling on black citizens to "do battle" over the issue.
Dudycz accused Hendon on Friday of trying to start "a war of the races," and Hendon countered that he was merely speaking symbolically.
Adding fuel to the debate is a startling report by the Legislature's Legislative Research Unit, which cataloged the state's affirmative action policies at Dudycz's request. …