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Emanuel ducks questions over UNO chief

Former United Neighborhood OrganizatiCEO Juan Rangel Mayor Rahm Emanuel July 2012.  |  Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

Former United Neighborhood Organization CEO Juan Rangel and Mayor Rahm Emanuel in July 2012. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: December 1, 2013 7:29AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel sidestepped questions Monday about the future of a key political ally who runs the scandal-scarred United Neighborhood Organization’s charter-school network.

The mayor said the fate of longtime UNO chief executive Juan Rangel ­— who was co-chairman of Emanuel’s 2011 mayoral campaign — depends on the group’s board.

Asked if Rangel should leave UNO, Emanuel replied, “The board has to look at that. My priority, No. 1, is to make sure that the education is meeting the standards that we expect.”

A spokesman for UNO said Monday, “To date, the board has indicated it has confidence in Juan.” That statement came from ASGK Public Strategies, a public relations firm founded by an Emanuel friend, David Axelrod.

The UNO board has been leaderless since Sept. 13, when businessman Martin Cabrera Jr. quit after three months as chairman. Cabrera had replaced Rangel as the board’s unpaid chairman in May, as part of an overhaul of the entire board, but Rangel remains UNO’s $250,000-a-year CEO.

UNO officials expect to name Cabrera’s replacement in December.

The mayor also declined to comment Monday on the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s investigation of UNO, which operates 16 publicly funded charter schools with more than 7,500 students in the city. The SEC recently asked UNO to provide documents related to $37.5 million it has borrowed from private investors as well as a $98 million state school-construction grant.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported in February that UNO used state grant money to hire contractors with close ties to the group. Gov. Pat Quinn has suspended the remaining $15 million from the grant, but UNO’s schools continue to receive tens of millions of dollars a year from the Chicago Public Schools.

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