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Quinn defends controversial anti-violence program

In the wake of criticism of his $54.5 million Neighborhood Recovery Initiative anti-violence program, Gov. Pat Quinn defended his efforts Thursday.

He noted in 2010, there were more than 1,000 students shot and 218 students killed by violence in Chicago. He said he set up an anti-violence commission that recommended programs in the neighborhood to help youth — and noted everyone on the commission had lost someone in their family to gun violence.

He added he consulted many people, including community representatives and participated in community walks and vigils with ministers.

He started the program “to take on the violence,” he said. “ … You can’t just say we’ll take care of this sometime later. We had to react promptly.”

There were document problems with the program, so oversight was switched to another agency, he said. That was done in 2012 long before a state audit of the program.

“I have zero tolerance for any kind of waste,” Quinn said.

The Sun-Times reported last month an audit of the grant program by the state’s top auditor, William Holland, blasted the program, calling it “hastily implemented” and found it didn’t target some of the most crime-prone neighborhoods in the city. It also found the Quinn administration didn’t adequately monitor it.

Republican candidates have said the program, which relied on recommendations from city aldermen that then decided how the money should be spent, was in essence a taxpayer-funded, get-out-the-vote effort for Quinn’s 2010 campaign.

The Sun-Times reported last week that the husband of Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown received more than $146,000 in salary and fringe benefits from the program.

Quinn spoke at a news conference at St. Pius V Church in which he repeated his call to raise the state’s minimum wage from $8.25 to at least $10 an hour. He was joined by actor Martin Sheen, who also called for support of such legislation.

“When you work 40 hours a week and you do things right, you shouldn’t have to live in poverty,” Quinn said.

Sheen noted that while he acts for a living, “activism is what I do to stay alive, and this is a reflection of my activism.”

Sheen labeled increasing the minimum wage “a moral issue.”

Given Quinn’s stance on raising the minimum wage and with billionaire Republican candidate Bruce Rauner, the primary frontrunner, Quinn was asked if the election is shaping up as pitting the working class verse the rich.

“This is not a new found faith for me,” Quinn responded. He said he was raised to understand the importance of “ordinary everyday people” getting “a fair shake.”

Rauner has been all over the map on minimum wage. At a candidates’ forum last December in the Quad Cities, he left the impression he favored reducing Illinois’ minimum wage by $1 to match the national standard. But faced with a stiff backlash from Democrats, Rauner backtracked from those statements, describing them as “flippant.”

He said he would favor increasing the minimum wage so long as the national average went up, too — or, absent a move nationally, there were state workers compensation and tort reforms accompanying any unilateral increase in Illinois. Late last summer he told a downstate Republican audience he was “adamantly, adamantly opposed” to increasing the minimum wage at all.

Quinn was joined by low-wage workers and representatives from several community organizations, including Anthony Smith, who said he is homeless and lives in a shelter. Smith, who said he formerly owned a business in Detroit, said he now works at a temporary jobs agency in Chicago earning minimum wage and that his wife lives in Alabama with her mother.

“Right now, I’m not able to take care of my family,” he said, adding he’d be able to bring his wife of 26 years here if he earned a higher minimum wage.

Citing a Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago study, Quinn said for every $1 increase in the minimum wage, roughly $2,800 is spent in communities creating jobs.