Although the media cast a suspicious eye at Gov. Rod Blagojevich, members of the Pilgrim Baptist Church, 3301 S. Indiana Ave., said they never doubted he would give them the money he promised.
When Pilgrim was gutted by fire in January 2006, Blagojevich immediately pledged $1 million from the state’s capital budget. But a recently published article accused Blagojevich of breaking his promise, and re-routing the $1 million to South Loop Lab School, a day care center that leased the church’s administrative building.
The admin building was adjacent to the church and was also damaged in the fire. At a Monday press conference, Blagojevich insisted that he was unaware of the faulty transaction. “As far as I knew, everything we did and everything I said was fulfilled,” he said.
He speculated that the money might have been routed to the day care to maintain the separation of church and state. “I think what we’re going to discover is that perhaps some of the lawyers may have gotten involved and may have convinced the others who were doing this that they should keep a distance between the line that separates a religious purpose from a secular purposeà
Maybe that explains why it went to this tenant instead of an actual part of the Pilgrim Baptist Church community,” Blagojevich said. The initial plan was to allocate the money to the administrative building, which ran community outreach programs and thus qualified for a state grant.
The day care center operated out of the administrative building, and Blagojevich said that it is apparent it took the money and relocated, instead of investing in the space. Robert Vaughn, chairman of the Pilgrim Baptist Church board of trustees said he had no idea that the day care had received the $1 million.
Vaughn said the church had tried contacting Blagojevich a couple of times since his January 2006 promise, but had not heard back until the article broke. But Vaughn stressed that he never doubted Blagojevich. “I was never upset. The governor had given his word and I had no [doubt] that he would do differently than he said,” he said.
The church is now completing a grant application for the money, and Blagojevich has promised they will receive it soon after. “A million dollars will help anywhere. It’s not a lot, when you talk about a church as big as ours. It’s a good start in the right direction,” Vaughn said.
Pilgrim is in the process of rebuilding its structure, which was originally built in 1890 and is now deemed an offical city landmark. Today, the church’s edifice is braced to prevent collapse and the top of the walls filled to prevent water seepage.
Vaughn said that church officials recently signed a contract with Johnson & Lee Architects, and are drawing up a building design that is “close to what it was before.” Pilgrim is often referred to as the birthplace of gospel music. Gospel legend Mahalia Jackson sang in the choir there and Thomas Dorsey served as musical director for many years.
Attempts to reach the South Loop Lab School were unsuccessful. The phone number and email address listed on the center’s Web site are invalid.
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