Madigan in his UNO attire.
The Chicago Sun-Times has a blistering report this morning documenting the cozy relationship between Illinois Democratic Party Chairman and House Speaker Mike Madigan and the United Neighborhood Organization.
UNO, one of the largest charter school operators in the city, is now involved in a funding scandal involving $98 million dollars in state grants.
It has led to several UNO resignations following no-bid contracts going to family and friends of UNO’s leaders coming to light.
Juan Rangel, head of UNO, is thisclose to Mayor Emanuel. He was co-chair of his election committee
The Sun-Times story exposes the financial relationship between Rangel, UNO and Speaker Madigan.
With support from Springfield and City Hall, UNO has grown in less than a decade from what was primarily a Latino activist organization into one of the largest charter-school operators in the city. In 2005, it had one school. Now, it has 13 locations with about 6,500 students.
UNO’s close ties to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, whose campaign he co-chaired, and former Mayor Richard M. Daley are well known. But Madigan quietly has provided the group with perhaps its most valuable assistance.
Madigan introduced the amendment that yielded the $98 million grant to UNO in 2009. That’s believed to be the largest government investment in charter schools anywhere in the country.
The Madigan breakfast fund-raiser took place shortly before the state legislative elections in November, at Petterino’s Restaurant in downtown Chicago. In addition to Rangel and Reyes, its hosts included Federico “Fred” d’Escoto, president of d’Escoto Inc. and Miguel d’Escoto’s brother.
The Sun-Times reported Feb. 4 that d’Escoto Inc. and a company owned by another d’Escoto brother were among the contractors UNO paid with money from the state grant. Six days after the story was published, d’Escoto Inc. was suspended from getting any work from UNO pending an internal review of the organization’s contracting process. Two days later, on Feb. 12, Miguel d’Escoto resigned as UNO’s senior vice president of operations and chief of staff.
Reyes says he was the main organizer of the fund-raiser, which Madigan attended, and did so “for everything the speaker has done on behalf of the Latino community.” Reyes credited Madigan for the creation of new Latino-majority legislative districts.
Rangel declined interview requests about the Madigan fund-raiser but, in a written statement, said: “It is important that I take every opportunity to brief elected officials about the many issues facing the Hispanic community in Chicago, such as the chronic overcrowding of our neighborhood schools and the need for quality education options.”
Madigan spokesman Steve Brown says there was no connection between the contributions and Madigan’s support for UNO.
“You can draw whatever implication you want, but I don’t know any element of the Hispanic community that has not been supportive of what the Illinois Democratic Party is doing,” Brown says, adding that UNO has a “pretty good” record of academic achievement.
Regarding the UNO contracts that went to companies with ties to the group, Brown says, “I’ve not seen any reports suggesting that people who were hired to do the work didn’t do the work.”
State officials are reviewing whether UNO violated conflict-of-interest restrictions in its grant contract.
An asterisk at the bottom of the flyer for a recent fundraiser for Madigan claims Rangel’s support does not represent that of UNO.
But check out who and how much:
◆ More than $7,000 from the political action committee for the Hispanic American Construction Industry Association, which UNO paid $40,000 in state grant money for “outreach” to minority- and women-owned contractors.
The HACIA PAC filed its “statement of organization” with state elections officials at 2 p.m. Friday, saying it was created three weeks before the fund-raiser. If that’s the case, it should have registered with the state within days of its creation in October and could face fines, according to Rupert Borgsmiller, the Illinois election board’s executive director.
◆ $5,000 from Wight & Co., the main contractor on UNO’s current high school project.
◆ $5,000 from d’Escoto Inc.
◆ $2,500 from Reflection Window Co. Owned by Rodrigo d’Escoto, another brother of Miguel d’Escoto, Reflection has been a contractor on every UNO project funded by the state grant.
◆ $2,500 from the Reyes Kurson firm.
◆ $1,500 from Primera Engineers Inc., a contractor for UNO on the Soccer Academy Elementary and the new high school.
◆ $500 from Pioneer Environmental Services, a consultant on the construction of two new, state-funded UNO schools.
Another $1,500 came from the Chicago Latino Public Affairs Committee, headed by UNO lawyer Homero Tristan.
Rangel should resign. But he won’t.
Madigan should be investigated by the state’s Attorney General.
But that is, of course, his daughter Lisa.
Still. An asterisk isn’t enough to hide this cozy relationship and pay to play deal-making.