SPRINGFIELD — Republicans repeatedly have called Gov. Pat Quinn’s Neighborhood Recovery Initiative anti-violence grant program from 2010 a “political slush fund” and a taxpayer-funded, get-out-the-vote effort.
But if the anti-violence program’s design truly was about investing public dollars to gin up enough votes for Quinn to win his election that year, a new, first-of-its-kind analysis by the Chicago Sun-Times found the alleged strategy may not have delivered as planned.
Yes, Quinn narrowly won in 2010. But the areas in Chicago and suburban Cook County that got anti-violence money under the program only helped pad the governor’s winning margin over Republican Bill Brady.
Increased turnout in those areas didn’t appear to seal the campaign for Quinn.
In its analysis, the Sun-Times compared voter registration and turnout data in the 2006 and 2010 gubernatorial elections in Chicago and suburban Cook County in and out of the city neighborhoods and suburban townships where $54.5 million in Neighborhood Recovery Initiative money was invested.
In the 20 Chicago neighborhoods that received state anti-violence money, the slight gains in Democratic voter turnout for Quinn and his running mate Sheila Simon over what former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Quinn got in 2006 was not statistically different than in the vast swathes of the city that didn’t get a dime in NRI grant funds.
The 2010 results were slightly more favorable for Quinn in suburban Cook County townships that participated in the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, but they still didn’t offer that much of a political return on the governor’s investment.
RELATED: Five things to know about the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative
Turnout for the Democratic gubernatorial ticket in townships that got Neighborhood Recovery Initiative dollars was 3.8 percentage points higher in 2010 than in 2006. That was double the 1.8 percentage point increase in turnout recorded in all other Cook County townships that got no state anti-violence money.
“On its face, one would think the difference would have been a little larger than it actually was,” said Ron Michaelson, the 27-year former executive director of the State Board of Elections and a board member of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.
“At the same time, what if the money had not been there? How much of a hit would they have taken? Obviously, that’s pure speculation,” said Michaelson, who also is on the faculty of the University of Illinois at Springfield’s Center for State Policy and Leadership’s Institute for Legislative Studies.
In Chicago, the Quinn-Simon ticket registered a 2 percentage-point increase in city neighborhoods that got NRI funding compared with the 2006 Blagojevich-Quinn ticket.
By comparison, in city neighborhoods that didn’t receive Neighborhood Recovery Initiative funding, the Quinn-Simon ticket registered a 1.9 percentage point uptick over what Blagojevich and Quinn got in those same areas in 2006.
The finding that there was no statistical difference in turnout in city neighborhoods that got Neighborhood Recovery Initiative funding and those that did not emboldened Quinn’s campaign to claim validation for its arguments that the anti-violence program never was intended to drive voter turnout.
“It’s been a ludicrous suggestion from the beginning and as the Chicago Sun-Times has confirmed, it remains so,” Quinn campaign spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said.
“Everyone knows, including Bruce Rauner, that the program was launched to combat violence, and it’s sad that his cynicism and desperation to be governor would cause him to suggest anything otherwise,” she continued.
“Look at what’s happening today in the city of Chicago. There clearly needs to be more strategies to meaningfully fight violence. Something had to be done, and the program was designed to fight the very serious and real violence epidemic that is still plaguing too many communities,” Anderson said.
Asked about the findings, Rauner’s campaign did not address them head-on.
“The only things we know for sure about the NRI program is that it is the subject a federal criminal investigation, taxpayer money was badly misused, some high-crime neighborhoods were mysteriously ignored and violent crime is still a major problem in Chicago,” Rauner campaign spokesman Mike Schrimpf said.
“Until Pat Quinn comes clean and releases all the documents and emails about the program, taxpayers won’t know why the program was developed and implemented in such a sloppy, rushed fashion, which resulted in serious misuse of tax money,” Schrimpf said.
NRI money went into three different townships — Bremen, Rich and Thornton. The Sun-Times also examined voter data in Proviso and Cicero townships because NRI money went to the village of Maywood and the town of Cicero.
Rich Township notched a 4,002-vote increase in Democratic votes at the top of the ticket between 2006 and 2010, good for a 7 percentage point increase in that south suburban township.
Thornton Township posted the largest gain in raw Democratic vote totals for governor in any city neighborhood or Cook County township between 2006 and 2010. The 4,777-vote increase amounted to a 5.3 percentage point gain.
Quinn defeated Brady in 2010 by 31,834 votes out of a total of 3.7 million votes cast.
In city neighborhoods and Cook County townships that got Neighborhood Recovery Initiative money, the increase in raw votes between 2006 and 2010 in those areas amounted to a combined 14,468 — less than half of the governor’s winning margin over the Bloomington Republican.
Told of the Sun-Times analysis, Brady said he believes the political benefits of infusing NRI dollars into city neighborhoods and suburban Cook County townships bled over the boundaries of those respective areas and could have resulted in potentially more decisive turnout gains in the city and suburban Cook County.
“If 14,000 votes would have come to me, he still would’ve won by a couple thousand votes,” Brady said. “But if you presume … NRI had an effect outside the identified NRI neighborhoods, that its effect was not limited to those [areas], which we kind of think, then it’s different.”
Contributing: Scarlett Swerdlow