Occupation: CEO, United Neighborhood Organization
He runs a charter school juggernaut (11 schools and counting) funded largely through state tax subsidies. And he’s considered the man you must see to win the backing of the city’s sizable Latino population (29 percent), even though he himself does not hold elective office. “I realize there are other ways of cultivating power and influence,” he says.
What is central to power, he has learned, is the willingness to act. Rangel built up UNO from its origins as a Saul Alinsky-inspired community organization, advocating for Hispanics on matters such as crime, housing, and economic opportunity. “Hispanics are family oriented, have a tremendous work ethic, and are very entrepreneurial,” he says. “Any community with those three things is in a great position to succeed. But the piece we have to get right is education.”
As a tax-exempt nonprofit, UNO cannot endorse candidates, but politicians of all stripes seek Rangel’s personal backing. He says his support, even for Latino candidates, is not automatic. “We can be very ethnocentric, but we also know that power goes beyond our community and that we have to build coalitions with powerful people,” he says. “It’s not just about making myself feel good about supporting a Latino.”
Photograph: CHRIS STRONG