Metro-East News

July 23, 2014

Quinn aide: Crime, not politics, prompted troubled grant program

Gov. Pat Quinn was responding to a relentless wave of crime in Chicago when he launched his controversial Neighborhood Recovery Initiative grant program, according to a Quinn spokeswoman.

The "intense and persistent violent crime happening in the city of Chicago during the summer of 2010, not politics," is what prompted the Democratic governor to create the program, Quinn spokeswoman Katie Hickey said. The program is now the subject of a federal investigation,

Some Republicans have said the program, which ended up spreading $55 million in state money to organizations in the Chicago area, was put together in the months leading up to the 2010 election as a way for Quinn to bolster his voter base in that area.

The News-Democrat reported Sunday that just eight days before the election, the head of the NRI program wrote in an email that it would be "great" to make an announcement that week about expanding the program to three downstate communities, including East St. Louis. The downstate expansion never happened.

Hickey said the violence in Chicago at the time included the shooting deaths of three police officers and a 13-year-old boy.

"That summer the governor attended the funerals of police officers who were shot and killed on the streets and also spoke with the parents of Robert Freeman who was shot 22 times while riding his bicycle," Hickey said.

She also noted that Quinn took steps to shut down the program -- and the agency that ran it -- two years ago, when problems surfaced over how the program was being run and how taxpayers' money was spend. And, she said, Quinn recently signed a bill passed by the legislature that will "ensure mismanagement like what happened with the NRI program does not happen again."

Mike Schrimp, a spokesman for Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner, said: "What we know for certain is that the NRI resulted in serious misuse of taxpayer money. Pat Quinn needs to come clean and release all the documents and emails about the program, so taxpayers can know why the program was developed and implemented so poorly."

Illinois' auditor general, in a report issued in February, said there were "pervasive deficiencies" in the way the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority planned, implemented and managed the grant program.

A CNN investigation found that grant money was used to pay participants to march in a parade with Quinn, take field trips to museums and attend yoga classes. A Chicago Tribune investigation found that one organization used money to send a busload of residents to Springfield to lobby for keeping the grant money flowing.

According to an audit, the Violence Prevention Authority was unable to provide any documentation showing how communities were selected to receive the grant money.

The grants were sent to 23 communities in Cook County. The audit found that seven of Chicago's 20 most-violent neighborhoods did not receive grant money.

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