NRI didn’t help Quinn with black voters, but hearings might

SHARE NRI didn’t help Quinn with black voters, but hearings might

Ever since the release of a stinging audit in February, Gov. Pat Quinn’s political team has hotly disputed any suggestion there was a tie between his 2010 launch of an anti-violence program and his effort to energize African-American voters for that year’s election.

On Wednesday, newly-disclosed emails showed that at least one top member of his administration saw the connection at the time — and intentionally sought to exploit it.

To my mind, a September 2010 email from Quinn’s then-chief of staff Jack Lavin to the governor’s campaign manager falls short of the “gotcha” revelation that Republicans were hoping would swing campaign momentum back in favor of GOP nominee Bruce Rauner.

All it really shows is that the Quinn campaign was hoping to get some political mileage out of his $54.5 million Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, which has always been plain on its face despite the governor’s denials.

The email doesn’t disprove the governor’s principle argument that he hurriedly launched the program as a way to address what had been an alarming year of violence in Chicago, not to create a pre-election slush fund as Republicans contend.

But the proof that the troubled program figured into Quinn’s re-election strategy provided yet another embarrassment for Quinn that Rauner will be sure to exploit in the campaign’s final weeks.

The governor’s best defense at this point is to keep making the case that Rauner has been involved in worse as a private businessman, as this week’s latest revelations in the Sun-Times continue to suggest, which will continue to guide my approach in the voting booth.

Lavin’s email was part of a batch made public by the Illinois Legislative Audit Commission on the resumption of hearings into the NRI program, which had been stalled at the request of federal prosecutors in Springfield who are conducting a criminal investigation.

Writing to Quinn’s 2010 campaign manager Ben Nuckels, Lavin emphasized the need to “get the base out” and to “better prioritize correctly” campaign efforts. 

“The [African-American community tends to break late so we have some time. The Gov’s Neighborhood Recovery Initiative will also help on the jobs and anti-violence messages,” Lavin wrote.

The problem with that is that NRI “was hastily implemented and poorly managed,” in Auditor General William Holland’s words, with money hurried out the door in the weeks before the election as the Quinn administration turned to Chicago aldermen to advise them about which groups should get funding in their neighborhoods. Not a good idea.

The release of the emails overshadowed Wednesday’s long-awaited testimony of Barbara Shaw, who as director of the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority administered the rollout of  the NRI program.


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