Gov accused of making unfulfilled promises

March 5, 2008 11:35:03 AM PST
Is Governor Rod Blagojevich a man of his word?That's the question that's ricocheted around the state this week after state funds earmarked to restore Pilgrim Baptist Church went to the wrong place.

Another religious leader is also accusing the governor of breaking a promise.

Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz says, as a religious man, he's not going to accuse Governor Blagojevich of lying to him but believes he did break a commitment made at a Seder. The rabbi claims the governor offered him $400,000 to build a long-dreamed-about, non-sectarian community center in Uptown. That was more than two years ago.

"We were counting on that. We were basing our fundraising dollars on it, and we could develop a mortgage and get the job going. We're still waiting," said Lefkowitz, of the Agudas Achim Congregation.

The pledge sounds similar to one made by the governor soon after Pilgrim Baptist Church burned to the ground at 33rd and Indiana in 2006. He offered to help the church rebuild. Instead, the governor's team says a bureaucratic mistake sent the $1 million grant to a school that used to rent space next to the church but is now planning to relocate in a Loop high-rise while recruiting students on the Internet.

"We'd first like to thank Governor Blago for his support for our initiative to care for children for 24 years," says a Web site recording.

The governor now says he'll find another million to help Pilgrim Baptist Church.

That promise came days after he went to the campus of Northern Illinois University and promised $40 million to rebuild the classroom building where a gunman killed five students.

"Cole Hall will be torn down and what happened there will never be forgotten," Blagojevich said on February 27. The governor was counting on support in the legislature for the cash for NIU, and it might not be there.

"The governor is giving away millions of dollars in tax dollars without doing any due diligence whatsoever, and the reason why he does it is to get good publicity," said State Rep. Jack Franks, (D) Woodstock.

"I like to judge everyone for the best, and I hope he'll live up to his commitment to me. Not to me, to the Uptown community which needs this kind of facility," said Lefkowitz.

A spokesperson for the governor says his promises are not always for a quick infusion of cash; often they are pledges to work to secure funding from the General Assembly. And in recent years, that has been anything but quick and easy.

The state senator who serves the Uptown neighborhood calls the rabbi's community center "a fine idea," but she says funding for the project was never promised. It fell victim to last year's impasse over the state's capital funding budget.