While he gains traction in the race to keep his job, Gov. Pat Quinn is not off the hook for lingering questions about the troubled anti-violence program he launched four years ago.
A committee of state legislators received the go-ahead Monday to continue its probe into the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, a $55 million Chicago area-focused state grant program that Quinn's Republican rivals have called a "political slush fund." Now defunct, the NRI—which aimed to distribute cash to needy neighborhood organizations combating this city's crippling gang-and-gun-violence—became awash with scandal as allegations emerged over managerial incompetence and financial wrongdoing within its loosely organized network.
Quinn has denied accusations that the program was anything but a well intentioned effort to reduce crime.
Earlier this year, Auditor General William Holland released a blistering report that listed the NRI's management failures, prompting investigations by the feds and a bipartisan group of lawmakers headed up by Republican state Sen. Jason Barickman and Democratic state Rep. Frank Mautino. The ongoing controversy, coupled with allegedly improper patronage hiring inside the Illinois Department of Transportation, has dogged Quinn's campaign as he fights for re-election against Republican opponent Bruce Rauner, who's pounced upon the bad press to cast the Democratic governor as a corrupt heir to Rod Blagojevich. (At the same time, the wealthy venture capitalist is dealing with significant problems of his own, most notably the disturbing federal bankruptcy case involving his former private equity firm and patient deaths at a nursing home chain in Florida.)
Back to the NRI debacle: U.S. Attorney James Lewis, who's based in central Illinois, had previously barred the General Assembly's Legislative Audit Commission from calling hearings into the matter so as to not conflict with his federal grand jury investigation. That ban, enforced for a 90-day period from July, was lifted Monday when the prosecutor gave his OK to the commission to go forth with a hearing slated for Oct. 8, the Chicago Tribune reports.
Barickman told the paper he expects to call to witness Jack Lavin, Quinn's former chief of staff whose emails were subpoenaed by the feds, saying: "We have posed many questions, such as how the decisions were made to choose certain communities and certain providers (for grants), and I would hope we would begin to have an understanding as to how those decisions were made by the Quinn administration."
With Nov. 4's election fast approaching, the month of October still stands to be a terrible, no good, very bad time for Quinn as he attempts to fend off a formidable offensive from Team Rauner. The silver lining: The Obamas (and Hillary) are coming to town to throw A-list support behind Quinn, who could use a star-studded distraction right about now.