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CHICAGO - The 13-member Commonwealth Edison Co. board of directors Thursday

approved a new 29-year franchise agreement with Chicago after the City Council

removed a strict affirmative action requirement, the company announced.

After more than two years of negotiations with the city, the board

unanimously approved the agreement, which calls for the electric utility to pay

the city $74 million per year until the year 2020, starting Jan. 1.

The company's approval came a day after Chicago aldermen, by the minimum 26

votes necessary, killed an amendment to the agreement that would have forced

ComEd to give 25 percent of its business to minority-owned firms and 5 percent

to firms owned by women.

The ComEd board said Dec. 5 that it would refuse to sign any franchise that

required it to meet specific affirmative action goals.

Under a long-standing Illinois Commerce Commission ruling, about 70 percent

of the franchise fee paid to Chicago, or about $50 million, comes from suburban

ComEd customers.

In a statement Thursday, the company defended its performance, saying it had

bought more than $60 million in goods and services from minority businesses in

1991, a 239 percent increase over five years ago. The total expenditure for

1991 was $1.3 billion.

ComEd Board Chairman James O'Connor also said Mayor Richard Daley's

administration and the utility, which has a monopoly on providing electricity

to city residents, "devoted five pages of the new franchise to spell out the

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company's efforts to increase its equal employment (and) affirmative action

results," including urging general contractors to seek minority subcontractors.

That didn't satisfy 5th Ward Alderman Lawrence Bloom, who sponsored the

amendment that would have required ComEd to adhere to the city's minority

set-aside ordinance.

Bloom accused Daley of caving in to the powerful ComEd interests, but he

also conceded in a Chicago radio interview that his amendment was "a vehicle to

get the mayor back to the bargaining table" to seek a variety of concessions

from ComEd.

Daley, in a separate interview, criticized aldermen who accused his

supporters on the ComEd franchise of being racists.

Those aldermen were using the affirmative action amendment as a cynical

political ploy, he said.

John Hogan, ComEd's press spokesman, noted that the utility lowered its

monthly customer charge this summer for single-family and multi-unit dwellings.

The new franchise also commits ComEd to invest $1 billion in service

improvements during the next 10 years, to place underground a portion of a

high-voltage transmission line from south suburban Burnham to the south end of

Chicago's Loop and to give status reports to the City Council every five years.

- Times staff writer Sandra Guy contributed to this

story.

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