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Sen. Kirk wants new ATF director to appoint Chicago anti-gang coordinator

Sen. Mark Kirk Illinois State Fair last week. |  Seth Perlman/AP

Sen. Mark Kirk at the Illinois State Fair last week. | Seth Perlman/AP

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Updated: September 20, 2013 6:31AM

While Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) has dropped his call for mass arrests of 18,000 Gangster Disciples — just not practical, he realized — Kirk is pushing the new ATF director to appoint a Chicago based anti-gang coordinator as he continues to look for more federal money to combat major gangs.

The Senate on July 31 confirmed B. Todd Jones to be the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Jones is the first permanent ATF director since 2006 — with President Barack Obama blaming Republicans playing politics for the seven-year delay. To Obama’s point: Jones was confirmed on a 53-42 roll call, with the support of only one Republican — Kirk.

The day after the vote, Kirk called Jones to congratulate him and to press him to send more resources to Chicago to deal with guns and gangs of “national significance,” specifically the Gangster Disciples and Latin Kings. Earlier this year, Kirk was the only Republican in the Senate to vote for substantial gun control legislation — measures ultimately stalled in Congress.

“As we discussed during our telephone conversation of Aug. 1, 2013, the federal government does not give illegal guns and violent criminal gangs the attention they deserve,” Kirk said in his Aug. 15 letter to Jones, with a copy provided to the Sun-Times.

“During our conversation, you and I agreed ATF should appoint a Chicago based, ATF, anti-gang coordinator for Illinois. Further, this anti-gang coordinator should develop an Illinois specific anti-gang strategy and make regular reports to you on the progress of federal, state and local agencies’ anti-gang efforts.”

Jones is reviewing the request, an ATF spokesman told me.

Kirk plunged into the gang issue earlier this year, following the Jan. 29 murder in Chicago of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, shot in a park near the Kenwood home of President Barack Obama.

At first, Kirk called for the mass arrests of Gangster Disciples, a move that presented an assortment of legal and logistical hurdles for law enforcement officials. Kirk said he would ask Congress for $30 million to help bankroll the project.

A tipping point came after Rep. Bobby Rush told me in a May interview that Kirk’s plan was “a sensational, headline-grabbing, empty, simplistic, unworkable approach” that was an “upper-middle-class, elitist white boy solution to a problem he knows nothing about.”

That blast led to a meeting between Rush and Kirk resulting with fences mended and a pledge to work together to fight gangs.

Kirk softened his call for the mass arrests following his meeting with Rush and dropped it during a July 18 interview on WBEZ. “Bobby Rush has been somewhat correct in his criticism of me that a mass arrest all at once is not actually that practical,” Kirk told WBEZ.

Meanwhile, Kirk retooled his strategy on funneling more federal money to Chicago, seeking funds to fights gangs of “national significance” — rather than make the politically harder request for Chicago area-only funds.

In July, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved Kirk’s request for $19.52 million to “directly fight gangs of national significance.” But with the GOP-controlled House deadlocked with the Democratic-run Senate and the White House, getting new money for battling gangs is caught up with an assortment of difficult, highly partisan other spending and budget issues.

Today in the Loop, Kirk talks about gangs at a press conference featuring Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy and law enforcement officials from Lake, Kendall and DuPage Counties.


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