CHICAGO — Emails turned over to a legislative panel have raised questions about the role of politics in Gov. Pat Quinn's defunct anti-violence program that's under federal investigation, according to a published report Wednesday.
Exchanges between former Quinn aides appear to show a suburban Chicago mayoral race factored into determining which service providers got money through the 2010 Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
Quinn started the approximately $55 million program to help curb neighborhood violence. Earlier this year, state auditors detailed problems with mismanagement and misspending, and top Republicans claimed it was a political slush fund to help Quinn ahead of a close November 2010 election. Quinn has dismissed that claim, saying he spearheaded the program during a violent time when several Chicago police officers died. He's also said he addressed problems with the initiative, including abolishing the agency that ran it.
The program currently is the subject of investigations by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Cook County State's Attorney's office. The Legislative Audit Commission that must sign off on the audit has said the report didn't answer questions and also has been investigating on its own, though it suspended its probe at the request of federal officials.
The Quinn administration turned over to the panel more than 2,000 emails, which the newspaper highlighted in its report. Among them are January 2011 exchanges between then state Rep. Karen Yarbrough, a Maywood Democrat, and Quinn aides.
Yarbrough, now Cook County recorder of deeds, wrote that that one group called Proviso Leyden Council for Community Action shouldn't be paid to help former inmates because it was "not being effective in Maywood and not using resources well." Quinn aides later noted in emails that the group was backing a political rival to Yarbrough's husband, Henderson Yarbrough Sr., who was serving his second term as Maywood village president.
Former Quinn deputy chief of staff Toni Irving wrote in an email that Maywood had been "rife with conflict" about providing agencies for NRI and that even though the Proviso group appeared more qualified, the work would be split with another group, Vision of Restoration.
Karen Yarborough told the newspaper she was "shocked" to see the mayoral race coming up in Quinn administration emails, but denied discussing her husband's political career. He lost that re-election bid, but not to the person connected to Proviso.
Quinn spokeswoman Katie Hickey said none of the aides who wrote the emails work for the state anymore and defended their motives.
"It appears the former state employees were attempting to avoid a conflict between the two sides while ensuring that anti-violence programming continued and was not interrupted," she said. "The NRI program was shut down in 2012 and anti-violence grants were moved to a new agency overseen by law enforcement."
She added that Quinn has signed legislation that improves grant oversight.