Elmer Cooper originally was in line to head an affirmative action department at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which would have operated a minority summer internship program in the futures industry, according to agency sources.
The program was one of the pet projects of the chairman, William T. Bagley, a liberal Republican from California. The job itself would not have required congressional confirmation and might have been one which would have kept Cooper out of the limelight.
This spring, Bagley and other CFTC officials met with representatives of the New York commodity exchanges, large brokerage firms and major trade houses over lunch at the private restaurant in the World Trade Center's Windows on the World complex, several CFTC staff members told The Post.
The meeting followed by several months a speech made by Bagley before an industry audience in Chicago in which he noted that traders on the Chicago Board of Trade were "all male an d pale."
"It was a total failure," one agency source said. "They dismissed the idea out of hand as something that the agency should not be concerned with and said they wouldn't make any recruitment efforts on anyone's behalf."
Members of the Chicago Board of Trade and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange refused to attend a luncheon planned in that city when the topic for discussion becamed known, another source said.
"They just wouldn't agree to even talk about it," he said.
Bagley said in an interview Friday, however, "We had a modicum of success with it" in New York, although he conceded that "the whole thing blew up in Chicago." He said some of the major New York brokerages did recruit a few minority interns for the summer, but he said it was too late in the year to work out a project with the exchanges.
"Some people raised the question of jurisdiction in Chicago," he said. "There's nothing in the (CFTC) act that authorizes such a project, but there's nothing there that says the chairman can't have a social conscience either."
He said he intends to begin working on a summer program for minorities as early as January or February in order to avoid the time problems encountered this year.
The futures industry, which is dominated in Chicago. New York, Kansas City, Minneapolis and London by white males, "is almost of another era," a former CFTC staff attorney said. "I'd say 10 per cent at most are in the 20th Century. The rest, philosophically, cling to narrow, exclusionary values. They think they're part of a private men's club and don't intend to include women, blacks or other minorities in more than extremely minor and low-level roles."
In the U.S. commodity industry, the grain trade is dominated by white Midwesterners and the cotton trade by white Southerners, while the metals and tropical products sectors still retain the flavor of their British colonial trading roots. Many of the latter firms have British or Irish trade house ties.
In New York and Chicago, a few Jewish and Italian traders have broken through the barriers at the exchanges themselves, and some hold powerful administrative posts there. The major brokerages, however, such as Merrill Lynch, Pierce Fenner & Smith, E.F. Hutton,and Shearson Hayden Stone have begun hiring minority staff members in recent years as part of their own affirmative action programs.
As recently as this year, the few hundred floor brokers on the five New York exchanges included one woman trader at the New York Cocoa Exchange and one woman at the New York Mercantile Exchange. The cocoa broker is employed by one of the largest U.S. brokerages. She rarely, if ever, participates in actual ring trading, but prefers to handle the telephone orders. The woman at the Mercantile is again, chooses more of a clerical than active trading role. There are few, if any, black traders. A handful of other women and minority group members hold exchange memberships, however, but do not participate active trading.