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Mayor says ex-UNO chief was ‘distraction’

Juan Rangel was a “distraction from the mission” of the United Neighborhood Organization and did the right thing by resigning as the clout-heavy organization’s chief executive, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Wednesday.

Five days after a contracting and hiring scandal that triggered a federal investigation and a state funding cut-off forced Rangel to resign his $250,000-a-year job at the non-profit that operates the largest charter school network in Illinois, Emanuel left no doubt that he supported the move.

The subject is a politically sensitive one for Emanuel for several reasons.

The mayor is a huge proponent of charter schools. Rangel is Emanuel’s former campaign co-chairman and was a mayoral appointee to the Emanuel-chaired Public Building Commission.

And after championing a host of ethics reforms at City Hall, Emanuel cannot afford to look the other way when allegations of contract cronyism and hiring favoritism are raised anywhere, let alone at an organization run by a close political ally.

Rangel had three family members on the UNO payroll. Sources said two of them quit recently, including Rangel’s nephew Carlos Jaramillo, UNO’s deputy chief of staff.

“UNO is both part of the education of our children in Chicago because about 5,000 kids go to those schools. And they’re also one of the longest established neighborhood groups in America,” the mayor said after Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

“Juan Rangel has served it and served it well. But he knows that he was a distraction from the mission. My primary mission is the education of our children, and I want to see the high-quality education of the children in those schools maintained.”

The mayor was asked whether the contracting scandal uncovered by the Chicago Sun-Times has shaken his confidence in UNO as a charter operator that receives millions from the Chicago Public Schools.

“They have a lot to answer and there are proper people asking questions, OK?” the mayor said, apparently referring to the federal Securities and Exchange Commission.

The SEC asked for documents related to $37.5 million the group borrowed from private investors, as well as records involving the state grant.