The Problems And Politics Of Pat Quinn's Neighborhood Recovery Initiative
"On Oct. 6, 2010, less than a month before the election, Gov. Pat Quinn stood alongside congressmen Bobby Rush and Danny Davis to announce he was plowing $50 million in state funds into an anti-violence program for Chicago neighborhoods," Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown wrote Tuesday.
"As far as I can tell, the newspapers never even reported it at the time. All I can find are the press releases.
"I have no memory of the announcement myself, but would guess most reporters figured it for an election year repackaging of existing state programs and ignored it. That was probably a mistake on our part."
As far as you can tell? Your memory? Look it up!
(And "probably" a mistake by reporters who "figured" it was an election-year repackaging of existing state programs? Ho-hum, reporters are so easily bored. They just "figure" stuff. Like, what's the big deal about the state spending $50 million to stop violence in the city? It's "probably" nothing. Oh, gotta go. Another dead kid. Hope she died holding a teddy bear. Now, about that code of silence . . . )
Like I said, I did Brown's job for him - just put the check in the mail, Mark - and looked it up.
October 8, 2010, Sun-Times: "Two leading groups fighting violence against women and youth rapped Gov. Quinn Thursday for launching a $50 million anti-violence initiative when Illinois has become the biggest deadbeat state in the country by one new survey.
"We are dismayed and disheartened by the governor's decision to spend $50 million on a new initiative at a time when the state owes millions of dollars to agencies providing critical services and prevention programming in communities across the state," said Polly Poskin, executive director of the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
"Her organization, which distributes funding to 22 rape crisis centers across Illinois, has had its state funding cut 27 percent in the last two years and is owed more than $1.7 million because the state is five months behind in its bills. Because of the funding squeeze, six of those rape-crisis centers may not meet their payrolls by month's end, she said.
"We are confused by the ability to find dollars in our current budget crisis when our local agencies are still waiting to be paid for fiscal year 2010," said Vickie Smith, executive director of the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
The headline: "Agencies Slam Quinn On Overdue State Bills; They Go Unpaid As He Launches $50 Mil. Program."
This is remarkable context. Quinn was met with derision when he introduced what he called the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative. After all, he had just spent months cutting funding from social service agencies, which all in their own way do a part in addressing youth violence, but not paying the bills already due those agencies. (The latter part we knew; the contrast to new monies found for Quinn's pet project just now comes into focus. Bear in mind, too, that Quinn stood with two congressmen, Rush and Davis to announce the program, not the actual mayor of the actual city benefiting from the money. So, clearly an effort to turn out the black vote.)
Other than that, yes, the media ignored the project.
To be fair, let's provide some additional context.
For example, the NRI didn't just spring up one day when Quinn realized he was about to lose the governorship to state Sen. Bill Brady, and that a little walking-around money could be just the thing to put him over the top.
No, the NRI sprung from an anti-violence commission he formed three months prior.
That's not to say it still couldn't have been part of the plan - the timing is exquisite. The commission was asked to submit its findings to the General Assembly when it came back into session that November. Quinn didn't wait.
And what was going on in Chicago at the time?
Much the same as is going on now. Consider this from the Tribune on August 3, 2010:
For the third consecutive day, a top Chicago police official held a briefing for the news media as the department struggles to get out its message that crime isn't out of control despite headline-grabbing stories about the city's daily violence.
Obviously I can't know what was on Quinn's mind at the time, but I do know that I've watched public officials who, time and again, never let a crisis go to waste. Feeling compelled to act in the face of the facts, goaded by reckless and irresponsible media coverage, the "best" of them also see an opportunity to exploit (even if that opportunity comes in the form of dead kids). Those are the times when Chicago becomes the most coincidental city on the planet.
Part of Quinn's defense now against charges that he was buying votes is that "No money was distributed to any organization until well after the election."
But that's what makes the whole enterprise a thing of beauty.
If the money had been dispensed, there would be no guarantee that anyone would feel extra motivated to get to the polls.
And if the contracts hadn't yet been let, there'd be no confidence that the money would ever arrive; it would just be another campaign promise waiting to be broken.
But with the contracts out and checks to come after the election, Quinn had set the perfect trap - again, perhaps unwittingly, but boy did that work out sweetly. If you were the recipient of a contract, or even if you were just about to be employed by an agency that was, you sure wanted to see Quinn win. A Brady win could quash the whole deal and leave your pockets empty.
Of course, it's standard operating procedure in America to dole out contracts and other goodies in an election year. It's also wrong; it's a perverse use of our money, and it perverts the policy-making and budget processes.
Where did the money come from?
Well, in politics, money can always be found when an elected official wills it, just as finding money for other people's needs and desires is simply mathematically impossible when an elected official wills it.
Consider that in March 2010, seven months before Quinn came up with $50 million for the NRI, "Quinn proposed $2.2 billion in program cuts, $4.7 billion in borrowing and more than $6 billion in unpaid bills being pushed off into the following year."
True, $50 million is the proverbial drop in the bucket compared to those figures, but it's a huge amount to those whose budgets were getting slashed.
And just two months before Quinn formed the NRI, the Tribune reported this:
"Illinois owes its vendors - most of them nonprofits, such as YSP and Cicero's Corazon Community Services - more than $3.7 billion, according the state's comptroller's office.
"Many operate anti-violence programs that have cut back drastically or shut down during the summer months, when violence peaks."
In October 2010, the Tribune reported this:
"Nonprofit organizations that serve some of the nation's most vulnerable citizens have been forced to freeze salaries, dip into cash reserves and cut programs because government funding is shrinking and often late in coming, according to a report released Thursday by the Urban Institute. And human service nonprofits in Illinois have been among the hardest hit."
"Nationally, 41 percent of human service nonprofits reported late payments from state, federal and local government sources in 2009, the survey found. In Illinois, that number reached 72 percent, highest in the nation.
"Laurel O'Sullivan, vice president of Chicago-based Donors Forum, said a number of human service nonprofits - which provide services in fields including mental health, child care, housing, food assistance and alcohol and substance abuse - are suffering because of the state's financial turmoil.
"The Land of Lincoln has really become the land of late payments," O'Sullivan said. "There's no honor in balancing the state's budget on the backs of human service providers."
"A spokeswoman for Gov. Pat Quinn said he is committed to making good on payments due to nonprofits. But the state is nearly $5 billion behind on its bills.
"We are working with vendors and providers to expedite payments to the best of our financial ability," said Kelly Kraft.
Right after we kick this $50 million out the door.
The Champaign News-Gazette seems to be alone in calling out Quinn in real-time.
Gov. Pat Quinn, with great fanfare, announced this past week a new social program that he said is aimed at strengthening and revitalizing urban communities.
Now, I happen to believe that social services should be the last area to cut funding, not the first. But you get the idea.
Now, let's say you ran one of those anti-violence programs that shut down over the summer because Quinn turned off the spigot through which state dollars trickled. What would have been thinking when you awoke in November to a report like this?
"Circle Family HealthCare Network will soon begin deciding how to dole out about $1.13 million in state funding for a new violence prevention initiative in Austin, and the non-profit wants the community's help.
"State officials chose Circle Family HealthCare Network - which provides medical care at two federally qualified community health centers in Austin and employs about 120 people at six locations - to be the lead agency.
"Groups in 17 other Chicago neighborhoods and several suburbs were named lead agencies and will be responsible for distributing millions of dollars elsewhere."
I'd say that by that time you had caught on. And eventually, for those who weren't clued in from the get-go (including those in the media who brushed off complaints from Republicans), that's what happened.
"The deep cuts to social services spending proposed by Gov. Pat Quinn have left private agencies that work with the state's most vulnerable residents feeling they are being used in a political game," the Tribune reported in February 2011.
"Quinn has enlisted the agencies' support for his 67 percent income tax increase and asked them to apply pressure on the mostly Republican group of lawmakers who have balked at his plan to borrow $8.75 billion to help pay the state's giant backlog of bills."
Again, $50 million isn't much against the backdrop of an $8.75 million borrowing plan. But if $50 million was nothing, why spend it at all?
I can assure you that if you look at it from the receiving end, not the giving end, $50 million is as much money as us ordinary folk imagine it to be.
After Quinn squeaked by Brady (separated by some 30,000 votes out of 3.5 million cast), the money started to go out the door.
(One example highlighted at the time by Quinn's PR staff: "Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity Director Warren Ribley visited ACCION Chicago today to highlight a new financing tool that will give start-up and existing small businesses the financial bridge they need to succeed coming out of recession.
("A total of $5 million is being made available through the Community Development Fund, a component of Governor Pat Quinn's Neighborhood Recovery Initiative launched in October to help revitalize urban communities.")
Just seven months after announcing the program, the General Assembly tried to take back some of the money.
"Needy college students, impoverished pre-schoolers and those living in crime-infested neighborhoods all would feel the pinch from competing state budget proposals that have now moved from one chamber of the General Assembly to the other," the Sun-Times reported on May 15, 2011.
"The Senate's spending package would all but zero out spending on the Operation Ceasefire anti-violence program, while the House has proposed paring back Quinn's $33.5 million Neighborhood Recovery Initiative he announced last fall by $23.5 million."
And that's the last we heard of the NRI in the local media - with one exception - until February of this year, when state auditor William Holland eviscerated it and touched off the media cycle we're now in.
The exception was this Tribune endorsement in October 2012:
If the NRI worked in any significant way, Quinn might be able to plead that good politics makes for good government. The evidence, however, is not in Quinn's favor.
In December 2012, CNN took a look:
ASHLEY BANFIELD: Part of our ongoing coverage of Chicago's gun violence has been to look at what's being done to stop it which brings us to tonight's report. With killings on the rise, Illinois's governor, Pat Quinn, launched an ambitious anti-violence program two years ago called the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative. And on paper it sounded like a great idea and it really did catch our eye. And then we investigated. And the CNN investigation found some pretty serious questions about whether this was crime prevention or good old-fashioned politics.
For example, last summer the NRI was still sponsoring peace marches.
In February, state auditor general William Holland released his bombshell.
"The state's top auditor slammed a $54.5 million anti-violence program launched by Gov. Pat Quinn one month before the 2010 election," the Sun-Times reported.
"Auditor General William Holland described the governor's Neighborhood Recovery Initiative as 'hastily implemented' and said it didn't target some of the most crime-prone neighborhoods in Chicago.
"Holland found that Quinn's administration didn't 'adequately monitor' how state grant dollars were spent or on whom; community organizations that hired people with those funds weren't maintaining time sheets; and city aldermen dictated where funding was to be steered.
"'Our audit of the NRI program found pervasive deficiencies in [the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority's] planning, implementation and management of the NRI program,' Holland's audit concluded, referring to the agency Quinn put in charge of running the program."
In the last week, Quinn has gone on a media blitz of sorts, hitting the local TV stations to plead his case.
"Gov. Pat Quinn says he takes responsibility for a program that's now under investigation, but he insists he quickly took steps to correct it," CBS2 Chicago reported.
That's not entirely correct, however.
Worse, CBS2 Chicago also reported this:
Quinn said the program sprang from a young man's 2010 shooting death.
Worse still, Quinn has hit the trifecta: the NRI is now under investigation by the feds, Cook County State's Attorney's Office, and a legislative subcommittee.
Back to Mark Brown:
"The governor continued to pat himself on the back Tuesday for shutting down the program in the summer of 2012 when he said he first learned 'it wasn't going in the right direction.'
"'I didn't sweep anything under the rug,' Quinn told reporters.
"Maybe not, but he sure didn't hold a press conference with Rush and Davis or put out a press release to let everyone know what problems he had found in the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority, the agency that oversaw his Neighborhood Recovery Initiative."
You mean he didn't spoon-feed the media with accounts of a program it ignored in the first place?
"As to the original concern about the program being used to help Quinn for the 2010 campaign, that's not a clear picture."
Posted on May 8, 2014
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