I reached out to U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) on Friday, hoping that he would clarify what I consider the most damaging allegation in the Better Government Association/Sun-Times investigation into his defunct “Rebirth of Englewood Community Development Corp.”
It is unclear what happened to a $1 million grant the organization got from telecommunications giant SBC to build a technology center in the impoverished and violence-plagued Englewood community.
In an interview with investigative reporters Sandy Bergo and Chuck Neubauer, Rush was adamant that “every penny of that money went toward programs for the Englewood community.”
But Rush was unable to say exactly where the money went, and did not produce records to show how the money was used.
Although the mystery grant story was racing across the Internet, Rush declined to comment further.
I respect Rush. He has been on the front line when it comes to social justice issues, and has been a matchless advocate for a community that has been starved for basic resources.
Still, he is not above scrutiny.
But in 2006 when the Chicago Sun-Times Washington Bureau Chief, Lynn Sweet, raised questions about a possible conflict of interest related to Rush’s community organization receiving the $1 million grant from the charitable arm of SBC/AT&T while the congressman sat on the House telecommunications committee, Rush responded with derision.
“Because of inaccurate reporting by your political writer, Lynn Sweet, the story carried by your paper only served to confuse, rather than enlighten, the public about this matter,” Rush wrote in a tirade that did not explain how the $1 million was used.
I expect that his response to these latest allegations will be just as belligerent.
I doubt that Rush had ill intentions when he came up with the idea of building a tech center in Englewood. But it is arrogant to think that one person can serve as a congressman, a pastor and as the head of a community organization without something going awry.
Clearly, in this instance, Rush was not held accountable and that oversight has come back to tarnish the congressman’s reputation.
Former state Rep. Constance Howard fell into a similar trap.
Howard pleaded guilty earlier this year to diverting about $28,000 from a scholarship fund she created for needy students. The long-time politician was accused of using the money for her personal and political campaign.
Frankly, Rush’s dilemma reminds me of the circumstances that forced out Juan Rangel, the former chief executive of UNO.
When I met Rangel nearly two decades ago, he had one passion — advocating on behalf of the Hispanic community, particularly around issues of education and leadership.
Then came the organization’s foray into operating and building charter schools with lucrative state funding. When it was learned that the organization had given $8.5 million of business to two brothers of Rangel’s top aide, all of Rangel’s good works and his role in educating more than 7,500 children currently attending UNO’s charter schools was put in jeopardy.
Rangel became the ultimate insider when Mayor Rahm Emanuel tapped him to be his campaign co-chairman and appointed him to the Public Building Commission.
But too often when outsiders become insiders, they begin to behave in the same manner as the people they used to complain about.
In Rush’s response to earlier questions about the $1 million grant, he argued that the average person has no idea how much scrutiny African-American politicians endure.
But as evidenced by the stunning downfall of former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., over campaign fund abuses, perhaps these politicians aren’t scrutinized enough.
The black community in Chicago is struggling on too many levels for $1 million in charitable grants to fall through the cracks.