Chicago - May. 13, 2019
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American Dream Betrayed

Amara vs. University Park - And An Ugly Pattern Of Dissembling

I highly advise you to think long and hard about how you engage with me, and about your role in this Village moving forward. If you (or any one else, for that matter) continue to expend your energy attempting to derail me, you will be highly, highly disappointed and in fact, you will be damaging not only your career, but your quality of life. I guarantee it. I will be merciless and relentless in ensuring that you, and any other people of ill character - not acting in good faith - are dealt with appropriately; for the sake of this Village - and it will be unlike anything you have ever experienced.

- Amara Enyia, then acting village manager of south suburban University Park, in an e-mail to trustee board member (and lawyer) Oscar Brown Jr., under the subject heading "Potential Legal Action Regarding our Conversation on Thursday 15th." (Boldface in the original.)

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When the Tribune reported its takeout of Amara Enyia in early February - one in a series the paper has done on mayoral candidates - it focused mainly on her tax problems, or at least that's what seemed to get the lion's share of everybody's attention. But the paper also showed discrepancies between Enyia's claims of accomplishment and reality. I encourage you to click the link and review the story again - or for the first time if you missed it!

Curiously, Enyia never talks about her brief time as the interim village manager of University Park, the closest job she's had to mayor of Chicago. (If that sounds absurd, that's because it is, even though it's true.) Now we know why.

Enyia took on the assignment in 2017 - two years after her first run for mayor of Chicago. She is now, of course, running again to lead the nation's third-largest city. But to be frank, Enyia's time in UP was a shitshow well beyond what the Tribune has already reported.

But I'll start with the Trib before getting to the meat of the matter:

That May, University Park hired Enyia to be its village manager. Village records show she took the job without a contract in place, and her tenure immediately ran into trouble involving political squabbles and trustees who balked at paying her what she was asking - a salary of $126,000 to $180,000, which she said would be commensurate to what managers in other suburbs made.

While some trustees and residents criticized her for not being in the office on a daily basis, Enyia said she was often in the field meeting with businesses and other government entities, trying to put out fires related to the town's longstanding financial troubles.

Critics bristled when Enyia's ally, Mayor Vivian Covington, claimed at a June 2017 board meeting that Enyia's legal expertise had saved the village $7,000 in legal fees.

A resident asked if Enyia was a practicing attorney. She is not.

While she did graduate from law school, Enyia said she has never taken the bar exam because she always wanted to work in the public policy realm rather than as a lawyer. Enyia said she never presented herself as a practicing lawyer, and village attorneys handled the suburb's legal business.

Covington stands by her assessment that Enyia's law school degree saved the village thousands in legal fees.

"Most people do not have the legal language, or understand, so most people turn to an attorney. But she had that language," Covington said in a recent interview. "So some things that would normally go to an attorney, we didn't have to."

But by July 2017 it was clear that the Village Board was not going to agree to a contract with Enyia. The following month, it agreed to pay her $31,387 for the work she had done since March, and then parted ways.

"She wanted too much money," said Village Trustee Oscar Brown, who believed that Enyia already was thinking about running for mayor of Chicago while she was running the village. "She couldn't commit to the village of University Park, and we have serious issues ourselves."

To be fair, University Park was - and perhaps still is - screwed up. Still, 136 pages of e-mails sent to me from someone who FOIA'd the village depict a wild, and even unhinged, time for a candidate with a pattern of exaggeration and evasiveness about her record and resume who hardly seems able to handle the responsibilities of managing a village of 7,000 people, much less a city of 2.5 million.

For your consideration, The Amara E-Mails.

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For additional insight into Enyia, the Chicago Reporter's Curtis Black wrote earlier this month that "Enyia's record raises many confounding questions about her commitment to transparency."

To wit:

Enyia's refusal to release her full tax return also undermines her credibility as an advocate of transparency. Enyia has argued the purpose of releasing tax returns is so the media "can judge you based on income." It isn't. It's to achieve some level of transparency regarding financial interests and potential conflicts of interest.

That's underscored by the revelation that in September of 2017, Enyia began consulting for Kids First Chicago, a major school choice group. It was originally formed by the Commercial Club of Chicago to provide private financing for new schools under Mayor Richard M. Daley's Renaissance 2010 program, which saw scores of neighborhood schools closed and scores of charter schools opened.

After a couple of name changes - and after charter schools lost their luster - the group was relaunched in 2015 with its current name by Daniel Anello, who was previously chief strategist at the Chicago International Charter School network. It continues to receive funding from the Commercial Club as well as from major school choice funders like the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, and the Walton Foundation. Kids First is now "trying to shed its reputation as a primarily pro-charter, politically connected group," according to Chalkbeat Chicago.

Enyia was asked about this at a house party, as Black notes. Here's the video:

Black's summary:

Asked about the contract at a house meeting, Enyia said, "We have a responsibility to aid and transform what you might consider to be problematic institutions," according to a video posted by a supporter. She said KFC approached her "and said we recognize what charter schools have become" and wanted to shift the group's focus from school choice to "equity and engagement" and empowering communities. According to Enyia, she made clear her opposition to charters and told the group, "if you're serious about transforming your organization so it's not just cosmetic, it's tangible, then I will work with you to do that."

That's not really true, though.

"[C]ontrary to Enyia's claims," Black writes, "KFC seems to be more a matter of rebranding than transformation. Notes Chalkbeat, 'The Kids First philosophy - that the district should offer a menu of different schools, with families encouraged to choose among them - is consistent with the portfolio model approach.' That was the strategy behind Renaissance 2010."

It's even worse than that, really. Back to the Tribune:

"KFC has paid Enyia $3,000 a month for part-time consulting, generally about five hours a week, assisting with 'drafting communication releases and connecting folks on the West Side,' Anello told the Tribune."

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Back to Black:

"Another credibility issue involves the Institute for Cooperative Economics and Economic Innovation, which Enyia launched with some fanfare a year ago. It was going to pull together worker cooperatives and community land trusts, she said at the time; it would hold of a series of public workshops, provide technical assistance, and do advocacy work. It never got off the ground, according to the Tribune. But Enyia continues to cite it prominently as an example of her leadership and vision."

What the Tribune reported:

High on her resume, Enyia lists herself as the founder of another nonprofit organization, the "Institute for Cooperative Economics and Economic Innovation."

The organization has no website of its own, but occupies a page under the "programs" tab on a site belonging to Blue1647, a nonprofit technology innovation center based in Pilsen.

Blue1647's founder said he worked with Enyia on the economic innovation idea but it was in a nascent stage when she turned her attention to politics.

"It was just starting to coalesce, and we didn't really have any formal relationship," said Blue1647 founder Emile Cambry Jr. "And then she kind of transitioned to become a candidate."

Enyia also lists Blue1647 on her resume, stating she has been a "senior advisor" to the organization since 2013, and served as its president in 2017.

The Tribune asked Cambry if Enyia has had a role or title with his organization. "No," he said.

Enyia's campaign did not respond to questions about her resume.

Records list Cambry as the chairman and treasurer of Enyia's campaign fundraising committee, by the way.

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And then there's this ("we" here refers to some folks from Raise Your Hand, including founder Wendy Katten):

cassandraonamara.png

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And this:

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Even her marathon claims are exaggerated - and her explanations typically unsatisfactory, though that didn't stop Fran Spielman and the Sun-Times from acting as her stenographer.

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There's more to this disturbing pattern than I've recounted here (too much for me to get to, really) but it's all there for anyone to see - anyone who bothers to look. Instead, outside of the Tribune story and Black, Enyia has gotten a free ride from the media because she articulates pleasing things and she's endorsed by Chance The Rapper. She's certainly smooth and smart, in a certain devious kind of way, but the record shows she's not at all who she claims to be.

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Comments welcome.



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Posted on February 24, 2019


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