Chicago's First Ward Alderman Proco "Joe" Moreno was publicly jeered during a school closing hearing in the Logan Square neighborhood. These sham hearings, underwritten by the Walton Family Foundation (a foundation run by the founders of Wal-Mart), are a tool for Chicago Public Schools to sell school closings to the public as CPS makes way for more charter school operators like the United Neighborhood Organization (UNO). UNO previously lent its support to Wal-Mart expanding its operations in Chicago and is the organization that first gave Moreno his political footing. Now that UNO is under heavy scrutiny for its successful lobbying of $98 million in taxpayer money which was doled out to relatives of UNO executives, UNO's second in command has resigned and its founder has shamed the group in the press.
Moreno was a graduate of UNO's training program called the Metropolitan Leadership Institute. He owes his quick rise to power to his patron, UNO's CEO Juan Rangel, which may be the reason he has supported charter schools.
However, under the current of negative press the organization has received for lobbying for low-wage jobs and graft, Moreno has been pulled down in the undertow. This came to a head at the public hearing where "After less than five minutes at the microphone, Alderman Moreno gave up and left, followed by a number of catcalls, the most memorable of which was, 'Grab your skateboard and go, Joe!'"
Video from the hearing where Moreno was criticized for his UNO ties.
The skateboard jab was a reference to his reputation as a "hipster." The quote immediately went viral over social media.
The public scrutiny may have given the alderman a change of heart regarding charter schools. This was not the first time his education policy preferences caused a backlash. During last September's Chicago Teachers Union strike, he lambasted teachers throughout Chicago and was met with intense pushback both online and off.
This time, Moreno may have actually gotten the message.
They need to get back to the core of what UNO was founded for, which was to empower the Hispanic community as a whole -- not to empower a few in the Hispanic community," said Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1st), an alumnus of an UNO program to develop Hispanic community leaders.
Moreno said that whether UNO's actions met its obligations under its state grant was "not the point," and he welcomed Rangel's earlier vow to conduct a thorough internal review.
"They need to look at all their contractual practices to make sure they are living up not only to the letter of the law but also the spirit of the law in terms of conflict of interest," Moreno said
Moreno has signed on to a charter school expansion moratorium, which at the time of publishing, is stuck in the City Council's Rules Committee, of which Moreno is a member.
For the sake of the children of Chicago, we must watch closely to see if the alderman remains critical of charter schools.
UNO's CEO Juan Rangel has remained largely silent as he holds tightly to his free market ideology and firm belief that patronage is ethical. He may be the last one left on the sinking ship.
Follow Kenzo Shibata on Twitter: www.twitter.com/kenzoshibata