While Gov. Pat Quinn took a photo-op alongside Hillary Clinton, who stumped on the re-election-seeking incumbent's behalf in Chicago on Wednesday, an Illinois lawmaker panel held a hearing and listened to witness testimony as part of its investigation into his disastrous $55 million anti-violence grant program.
Quinn launched the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative four years ago, weeks before he successfully defeated GOP rival Bill Brady, and later shut down the program amid reports of mismanagement and sloppy accounting, not to mention state Republicans' dubbing it a "political slush fund."
Last week, the feds— doing their own NRI-related probe—gave the Legislative Audit Commission, led by Republican state Sen. Jason Barickman, the greenlight to proceed with two-day hearings on the unraveling scandal that has threatened Quinn's political future as he fends off a challenge from GOP governor nominee Bruce Rauner.
Here are three new developments from the hearing:
1. Taking the stand Thursday, Jack Lavin, Quinn's ex-chief of staff, shot down allegations that the NRI was a cynical ploy to drum up crucial African-American support in 2010's gubernatorial competition. Lavin, who left government to become a lobbyist, defended a somewhat damning personal email he wrote about a month prior to NRI's launch in October 2010 wherein he stated the program would "help on the jobs and anti-violence messages. ... If we are trying to get the base out and that's the key to our victory, we better prioritize correctly." He added that African-American voters tend "to break late so we have some time." Defending his former boss, as well as himself, Lavin claimed the program was created for the sole purpose of reducing crime. All the same, according to the Trib, Lavin admitted: "There's enough responsibility to go around. In the respect I was chief of staff, I guess I do have some responsibility, along with the governor."
2. Barbara Shaw, formerly the director of the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority, spent five hours testifying about the NRI and its loose network of 200-some neighborhood organizations that received state dollars to combat Chicago's gang-and-gun violence. Shaw, who wished she'd requested extra employees, said: "The focus has been on the relatively few organizations that had problems. People say we have to get to the bottom of the NRI program. I say we have to get the middle and the top and look at the excellent work that was done. There is no question that not all the ideas worked equally well in all communities or that all agencies were as successful as most, but the approach was sound." Shaw, like Lavin, insisted that politics had nothing to do with the decision to fast-track the NRI leading up to an election. She stated "the governor’s office never told us who to give the money to, what communities to go in, what agencies should get that money."
3. On the defense, Quinn's campaign is blasting Barickman and company as "GOP Witch Hunt Leaders," reports Capitol Fax's Rich Miller, who posted a statement from Team Quinn criticizing Republican Audit Commission members' voting records. Apparently Barickman once voted "no" to the concept of a gang witness protection program as well as an Internet Dating Safety Act. State Rep. He and David Reis, meanwhile, voted "yes" to concealed carry. In releasing this information, which suggests these politicians don't necessarily sympathize with the crime issues plaguing urban neighborhoods, Team Quinn is letting the facts do the talking.