UNO contract comedy: One man out, one man on, leaders baffled

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Juan Rangel
I'd like to personally thank the charter school empire known as UNO for providing one glimmer of humor in an otherwise grim week of murder, guns, and school closings.

The fun began last Wednesday, when Alderman Danny Solis told the Sun-Times that he was "disappointed" to read in the paper that UNO had doled out contracts to companies owned by the brothers of its number two executive.

"Solis said he was unaware of [UNO's] contracting practices before the newspaper’s report," said the Sun-Times in a follow-up.

The laughable part is Solis's claim that he had to read the paper to learn that UNO had awarded contracts to the brothers of Miguel d'Escoto, its chief operating officer, who resigned last Tuesday.

For those of you who don't know . . .

Before he was alderman of the 25th Ward, Solis was executive director of UNO. He helped start the group. And the crew that currently runs it—among them president Juan Rangel and chief strategy officer Phil Mullins—includes his oldest friends and allies.

So it's a real knee-slapper to think he didn't know UNO was doling out contracts to the d'Escotos until he read it in the Sun-Times. I'll bet he was shocked—shocked, I tell you!

Even funnier is Rangel's reaction to the contract fallout. He's bewildered. He's not sure how it happened. And he says he's determined that it won't happen again—even as he says he did nothing wrong.

He's so determined to make sure it won't happen again that he allowed d'Escoto to step down for the good of the company.

"Unfortunately, my being a member of UNO’s staff has become a distraction," d'Escoto wrote in his resignation letter. "I believe it is in the best interest of the organization and our community that I step down."

This is what we call taking one for the team, though I'm not sure why d'Escoto, as opposed to Rangel, has to take the fall. Is it exclusively Miguel's fault that UNO awarded contracts to d'Escoto Inc., which is owned by his brother Federico "Fred" d'Escoto, and Reflection Window Co., which is owned by his brother Rodrigo d'Escoto?

If I didn't know better, I'd say that after the Sun-Times broke the story someone on the fifth floor of City Hall—maybe even hizzoner—called Rangel and told him to make this shit go away before he makes the mayor look even worse for pushing charters in general and UNO in particular.

Hence, Solis is disappointed. Rangel is bewildered. And one d'Escoto brother is out of a job.

For my part, I miss the old Rangel. He was a swaggering, tell-it-like-it-is-kind-of-guy who made no secret of his love for patronage. Sort of reminded me of Don King, the boxing promoter, who didn't give a damn what you wrote about him, so long as you spelled his name right.

In fact, I was once the beneficiary of a personal tour of UNO's flagship campus, the UNO Charter School Network Soccer Academy, in Gage Park. It's true—I was there along with Mick Dumke. As a matter of fact, Miguel d'Escoto was there too.

As we walked around, Rangel was in full glory, bragging about UNO's clout and connections with politicians like Mayor Emanuel, Mayor Daley, Alderman Ed Burke, and Governor Pat Quinn.

He wasn't even remotely embarrassed about it. Why should he be?. It's how you get things done in this town. And he was adamant that UNO was the kind of organization that got things done.

It's sort of painful to watch him grovel now.

The final bit of comedy came at week's end, when Rangel announced he was hiring former federal judge Wayne R. Andersen to, as the Sun-Times put it, "conduct a review of how their charter-school network selected companies to build new schools with state grant money."

Let me get this straight—UNO needs to hire a judge to shed light on how and why it's doled out contracts to various cronies?

I imagine the conversation will go a little like this . . .

Rangel: Your honor, we want you to find out how the d'Escoto brothers got those contracts.

Andersen: OK, then tell me. How did the d'Escoto brothers get those contracts?

Rangel: We awarded them to them.

Andersen: Mystery solved!

Rangel: Great, let's have lunch.

I sort of wish Rangel had called a press conference, brought all the d'Escotos before the cameras, wrapped his arms around them, and said: "Yeah, I gave 'em contracts. And I'm gonna give 'em more contracts. And if you don't like it, elect your own goddamn mayor!"

Now that's the Juan Rangel I know and love.

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