A report released Tuesday from a former federal prosecutor assigned to investigate the operations of House Speaker Michael Madigan confirmed what insiders have alleged for years: The speaker’s office perpetuated a culture of sexual harassment, bullying and fear of retaliation.
Now that it’s officially documented, the question is, what are Democrats going to do about it?
No, really. What?
The speaker, who also serves as chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois, has been under fire for more than 18 months over complaints of harassment in his domain and a sense of manufactured concern from him about it. Madigan has been largely reactive to the negative coverage involving his aides and closest employees. He fired members of his team, including his chief of staff Tim Mapes, but only after damaging stories about grotesque text messages from supervisors, lewd comments from his closest aides, and evidence of a frat-house culture went public.
Almost any top leader in the public or private sector who faces the broad and deep accusations of misconduct in Madigan’s realm would be forced out of his or her job. Add to this scandal the ongoing federal investigations involving three of his closest associates whose homes the feds searched in May. Investigators are looking into payments that Madigan’s friends made to Madigan’s one-time aide, Kevin Quinn, whom Madigan fired after he was accused of sexual harassment.
Madigan’s response to the allegations of serious misconduct under him have been acts of placation: How much window dressing can we hang? Hickey’s report was the first sledgehammer inside the walls. But so far, no one is pressuring the longtime speaker to step aside.
Nine House Democrats — Kelly Burke of Evergreen Park, Jehan Gordon-Booth of Peoria, Camille Lilly of Oak Park, Theresa Mah of Chicago, Kathleen Willis of Addison, Deb Conroy of Villa Park, Lisa Hernandez of Cicero, Natalie Manley of Joliet and Ann Williams of Chicago — signed a letter on Tuesday, diluting the blame that has been concentrated on Madigan. Workplace harassment and bullying are problems throughout the country, they wrote. They cited legislation, task forces and other steps taken during the past 18 months to professionalize the environment of Springfield.
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In addition to policy changes, there have been women’s marches at the Capitol, Facebook groups formed, fists pumped, ribbons worn, speeches emoted from the House and Senate floors. But no collective call for new party leadership. Strange.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker, now a chief donor to the state’s Democratic Party that Madigan heads, danced around questions from reporters regarding the Hickey report. Yes, things need to change, he said. Yes, the report is disturbing. But on questions of Madigan’s leadership, Pritzker demurred.
Not even four months ago, the former legislative inspector general, Julie Porter, in a commentary published in the Tribune, called the state’s system to report complaints “broken.” The Legislative Ethics Commission that oversees complaints is made up of lawmakers from both parties who are expected to police themselves. That commission buried a report that concluded an unnamed legislator engaged in wrongdoing, and a second complaint that led to a substantiated finding of ... we don’t know what.
If Madigan and other legislative leaders were serious about holding themselves accountable, they would release those reports. So far, they have refused, despite pressure from at least one incumbent House member.
It’s late August and Illinois is on the cusp of another election cycle. Madigan has managed to maintain his position as speaker of the House and chairman of the state Democratic Party, and he’ll be calling the shots in House, Senate and congressional races from Rockford to Carbondale. He’s still the most powerful Democrat in the state, despite reams of damaging information about his state government and political operations. And as voters are observing, the silence from his Democratic allies is deafening.
Can the Democratic Party here still call itself “progressive”? Until Democrats start raising their voices, that label is a mighty stretch.
-- Chicago Tribune