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Brought in for reform, UNO chairman resigns after 3 months

UNO CEO Juan Rangel (left) MartCabrerJr. UNO's then board chairman announce plans for reforms recent news conference.   |

UNO CEO Juan Rangel (left) and Martin Cabrera Jr., UNO's then board chairman, announce plans for reforms at a recent news conference. | Sun-Times File Photo

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Updated: October 16, 2013 6:49AM

Only 3 1/2 months after he joined the scandal-scarred United Neighborhood Organization, businessman Martin Cabrera Jr. abruptly resigned Friday as UNO’s board chairman.

Officials of UNO, the state’s largest charter-school operator, had announced Cabrera’s appointment as part of a complete board overhaul in late May, after Gov. Pat Quinn suspended the politically connected group’s $98 million school-construction grant.

The suspension followed Chicago Sun-Times reports that $8.5 million of the state funding went to companies owned by two brothers of Miguel d’Escoto, a top UNO executive.

Citing Cabrera’s appointment as a reform measure, Quinn restored funding to UNO in June, which allowed the group to complete construction of a new high school on the Southwest Side.

But Cabrera told the Sun-Times that he quit “because of a difference of philosophy and mission.” He declined to elaborate.

Another of UNO’s six rookie board members also stepped down Friday. Joseph de Lopez, a former Winnetka police chief and Chicago police deputy superintendant, joined the UNO board at the same time as Cabrera.

Cabrera had replaced longtime UNO leader Juan Rangel as the board chairman, which is an unpaid position. Rangel remained as the group’s chief executive, a position that pays a $250,000 a year.

At the time of his appointment, Cabrera said there was “no one more suitable to be CEO” than Rangel.

Rangel—who was Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 2011 campaign co-chairman—did not return calls seeking comment Friday.

In a statement late Friday, UNO officials reacted to the resignations “with reluctance but respect.”

“In recent weeks, it had become clear that we had divergent views of UNO’s future direction,” UNO officials said.

UNO’s 16th school, the state-funded UNO Soccer Academy High School is scheduled to open Monday at 5025 S. St. Louis Ave. In addition to the state grant—believed to be the largest subsidy in the country to a charter operator—UNO also receives tens of millions of dollars a year from the Chicago Public Schools to educate more than 7,000 students, almost all of them Hispanic.

As UNO’s charter-school network has grown, so has its political clout. Besides Emanuel, Rangel also has forged close ties to Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) and Ald. Edward Burke (14th), at times endorsing their white allies over Hispanic candidates.

Cabrera, 42, is the chief executive officer of Cabrera Capital Markets, which has worked on bond deals for City Hall and other government agencies for more than a decade.

Emanuel picked Cabrera to be chairman of the Chicago Plan Commission in early 2012, and he has served on the city-county board that directs the construction of schools and other public buildings since 2011.

“I wish UNO much success as they take on the important challenge of educating our Latino youth,” Cabrera said.


Twitter: @dmihalopoulos

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