The United Neighborhood Organization has faced a number of troubling questions lately that suggest some UNO leaders are more interested in furthering their own personal and political interests than the interests of Chicago’s rapidly growing Latino community.
But among the ways UNO contends it’s helping Hispanics in the region – aside from the creation and management of city-based charter schools – is through a little-known program called the Metropolitan Leadership Institute, or MLI, created in 2001 by recently departed UNO chief Juan Rangel and his right-hand man, Phil Mullins.
MLI is grooming the next generation of Latino leaders by training them in civics, politics, business and networking. In other words: How to understand and obtain power.
So far, more than 350 people have “graduated” from the program, many college-educated, white collar-oriented Latino women and men.
- Chicago Ald. Proco Joe Moreno
- Former CTA President Rich Rodriguez, now the UNO Charter School Network board chairman
- Former Chicago Ald. Manny Flores, currently a high-level state government official
- State Rep. Silvana Tabares (D-Chicago)
In an interview, Rangel explained the program this way: “That is how role models [are created], we thought there was a niche for that, so we created MLI. … It is part of the organizational philosophy that we have evolved into. We describe it in terms of the leadership of a community. Our community is still very much in its infancy.”
Classes meet once a month for a year, and the recommended reading list includes books such as: Mexican Americans: The Ambivalent Minority by Peter Skerry; Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos, by Robert Kaplan; and Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading, by Ronald Heifetz and Martin Linsky.
MLI speakers have included former Mayor Richard M. Daley and Ald. Ed Burke – both of whom helped UNO gain political traction in recent years – and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, daughter of UNO backer and Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago).
So how has MLI manifested itself in government?
When Rodriguez became the CTA’s top administrator in March 2009, those with UNO and MLI connections began popping up on the transit agency’s payroll in greater numbers. At least four MLI grads landed CTA jobs or sizable pay raises during Rodriguez’s tenure, with salaries ranging from $88,000 to $170,000, according to records and interviews.
Cesar Lostaunau, an MLI graduate who was hired by the CTA in 2000 and left in 2012, noticed that when Rodriguez took over the helm of the transit agency there seemed to be an increase of MLI and UNO people. "Certainly when Rodriguez was there I noticed there were more people affiliated with UNO," Lostaunau says. "Did I hear people grumbling about it? Yeah, some people, kind of."
Moreno describes MLI as a place for young Latinos to groom networking and professional skills in the corporate and government arenas. "There's a void of leadership in the Latino community," Moreno, class of 2005, says. "There needed to be increased [Latino] leadership in the business and political communities."