CHICAGO – A member of Gov. Pat Quinn’s staff who helped start a 2010 anti-violence program now under federal and county investigation has become head of a new initiative to reduce Chicago violence that’s backed by major businesses and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, according to a published report Thursday.
Toni Irving was a deputy chief of staff for Quinn when his Neighborhood Recovery Initiative was formed in 2010, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Earlier this year a state audit chronicled pervasive problems with expenditures and management. Prosecutors from Cook County and the U.S. Department of Justice are probing the program. A legislative panel also plans to investigate.
Irving now heads a program called Get In Chicago, which this week awarded $1.7 million in grants to nearly a dozen organizations.
She told the newspaper that she helped come up with the idea for Quinn’s 2010 initiative, though had no role in implementing it. The Sun-Times cited public records that showed otherwise, including emails detailing her suggestions for who should receive grants.
Critics have labeled Quinn’s program as a political slush fund because it was formed weeks before the close 2010 election. Quinn has denied that claim, saying the idea was to combat violence.
Emanuel said the new program Get in Chicago is “totally different” from Quinn’s initiative, in part because it relies on private donations from businesses such as Northbrook-based Allstate. He also brought up the fact that his program wasn’t formed in an election year. Chicago’s municipal elections are next year.
“If you were doing it only one-year and around the campaign season, I understand why people would get cynical,” Emanuel said. “But given that it’s also in the years that there is no campaign, but it’s about safety, I would say look at the consistency over the four-year time.”
Recently, questions have also arisen about involvement by Cook County Circuit Clerk Dorothy Brown, who acknowledged she was a volunteer accountant for an organization that received funding through Quinn’s initiative and was started by her husband, Benton Cook III.
Quinn has said he moved swiftly to correct problems. His administration has launched an internal investigation.