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Dems can’t bury issues of Quinn’s anti-violence program

Updated: July 25, 2014 6:17AM



Illinois Democrats would like to put the whole mess of Gov. Pat Quinn’s troubled anti-violence program behind them as quickly as possible, so much so that they have forgotten one of Yogi Berra’s greatest maxims:

It ain’t over ’til it’s over.

I hate to break it to Rep. Bob Rita, D-Blue Island, and Sen. John Mulroe, D-Chicago, and whoever’s water they were carrying Monday with a determined attempt to “bring closure” to a legislative investigation of Quinn’s Neighborhood Recovery Initiative.

But this issue isn’t going away anytime soon, and any effort to short-circuit an investigation is only going to backfire.

To hear the Democrats tell it, everybody already knows the anti-violence program was a problem, so much so that the state agency that ran it, the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority, has already been disbanded.

Coupled with the fact that federal prosecutors in Springfield and the Cook County state’s attorney are conducting their own investigations, they argue there’s nothing more for the Legislature to do.

“What’s the endgame here? What are we going to accomplish?” asked Rita in his best move-along, nothing-more-here-to-see voice during a subcommittee meeting of the Legislative Audit Commission.

“It was a long time ago,” Mulroe said of the program that ran from 2010 through 2012. “What remedies are we seeking?”

Democrats eventually went along with Republicans by voting to subpoena Barbara Shaw, the former executive director of the anti-violence authority, to testify at the bipartisan panel’s next hearing on July 16 and 17.

Then they one-upped the Republicans by helping push through subpoenas for six other Quinn administration officials who Republicans say were involved in the program. Republicans would have preferred to call them to testify at a later date after hearing what Shaw had to say.

Democrats were transparent in their intent. They want the Audit Commission’s work wrapped up at the July meeting instead of continuing up until the election.

“I’m against a fishing expedition for political purposes, for political gain,” Mulroe argued.

Republicans deny their continued interest is political. Of course, it’s political, but well within the bounds of being acceptably so.

With Bruce Rauner’s campaign fanning the flames, they are going to ride this issue straight through the summer and right into the fall campaign.

Unfortunately for Quinn and the Democrats, they can’t stop them without looking bad because there are too many legitimate questions that still need to be answered, including who made the key decisions about which groups would receive the funds.

The truth is Republicans don’t like any anti-violence program that doesn’t involve having more police arresting more people and putting them in prison. They particularly don’t like programs that involve hiring young minorities in Chicago to do busywork to keep them from selling drugs and killing each other. They don’t see the point.

That’s why it was particularly foolish for Quinn to sloppily rush out his Neighborhood Recovery Initiative in the fall of 2010 in the guts of his election campaign. These programs serve a useful purpose, which is why it’s important to do them right.

Quinn insists the big rush was solely for the purpose of addressing the violence that had alarmed Chicagoans that summer.

Republicans don’t believe him, and neither do I. While I’m sure the governor was concerned by the violence, I also think he saw it as a good way to make some friends at election time.

Even at the press conference announcing the program, U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush stood with Quinn and a group of ministers and said he didn’t know about the rest of them, but that he was going to “Stand pat with Pat” in the election. Sounds political to me.

And Quinn might have even gotten away with it if Illinois Auditor General William Holland hadn’t issued a scathing audit earlier this year about what a mess the program was.

That was bad timing for Quinn, who doesn’t seem to know how to handle the issue now except to try to change the subject, as his campaign did Monday by trying to refocus reporters on Rauner’s opposition to raising the minimum wage.

Indeed, the shortcomings of Quinn’s anti-violence initiative isn’t the only issue in the governor’s race, but it’s a legitimate one that will be haunting Quinn long past July 17.

Email: markbrown@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkBrownCST



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