Yarbrough ousted from Madigan’s harassment panel to ensure political ‘firewall’

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Democratic gubernatorial nominee J.B. Pritzker, Cook County Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarbrough, and Melrose Park Mayor Ron Serpico. From Facebook.

A state senator called House Speaker Mike Madigan on Tuesday with “serious concerns” about whether a panel he created to combat sexual harassment could remain independent with the addition of Democratic Cook County Clerk nominee Karen Yarbrough — who is also the vice chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois.

And in less than an hour, Yarbrough stepped down.

“She’s been removed,” newly appointed panel member Melinda Bush, a Democratic state senator from Grayslake, told the Sun-Times on Tuesday.

Bush said she called Madigan Tuesday morning to discuss Yarbrough’s appointment.

“We had serious concerns that someone that’s vice chair of the party would be part of the panel,” Bush said. “I told him why I was concerned. That I really thought she should be removed. We want to make sure there’s a firewall and that we are able to be independent.”

Yarbrough is the Cook County recorder of deeds and is vice chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois and serves as the Democratic committeeman for Proviso Township in the Cook County Democratic Party. She won the primary for county clerk in March.

Within an hour of her conversation with Madigan, Bush said she received word from Yarbrough that she would step down if the panel felt her involvement would compromise its work.

“For women that might want to speak to us about the problems that they have within the Democratic Party and rising up, we want to make sure that women are comfortable with this panel,” Bush said. “There is a lot of work to be done, and we really can’t be distracted by politics.”

Yarbrough said she submitted a letter, writing that she would have loved to serve but did not want to be a distraction — comparing herself to state Comptroller Susana Mendoza, a Madigan ally.

View this document on Scribd“I already know that Susana was a distraction and if I’m going to be a distraction I would rather step down and help them from abroad,” Yarbrough told the Sun-Times, adding she helped to create sexual harassment policies for the Cook County Democratic Party.

“I got no time for politics when you’re dealing with this. They should try to cover all the bases, get it done and do their research,” Yarbrough said.

One leading #metoo whistleblower welcomed the news.

“I’m glad to hear the panel is taking concerns around ensuring its independence seriously,” said Alaina Hampton, whose accusations against Kevin Quinn, the brother of Ald. Marty Quinn, led to Kevin Quinn’s firing from Madigan’s political organization.

The decision to add Yarbrough to the panel in the first place left Hampton scratching her head.

She said that selecting Yarbrough for the panel raised questions about its independence from the state’s Democratic Party.

Yarbrough was nominated last week during a meeting of the central committeemen and committeewomen who comprise the state Democratic party — the same meeting at which Madigan was elected chairman of the party for the sixth time, making him the longest serving chairman in state history. Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) rose to nominate Yarbrough to be part of the panel, which Madigan created after the firing of Kevin Quinn over allegations of harassment and inappropriate behavior. Yarbrough’s addition to the panel was approved during that meeting.

Cook County Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarbrough. From YouTube.

Cook County Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarbrough. From YouTube.

“I’m definitely disappointed about it,” Hampton told the Sun-Times about Yarbrough’s nomination shortly before her exit.

Hampton said Yarbrough has “a lot of ties to Marty Quinn and the speaker.”

“I think everyone is kind of questioning the independence of the panel already,” Hampton said.

Hampton called the creation of the panel “a tactic being used to continuously sweep sexual harassment under the rug.”

Hampton — who worked closely with Harris when she helped to run state Rep. Juliana Stratton’s legislative race, said Harris and Marty Quinn share close ties.

“I know how much she’s in contact with Marty Quinn, so I think if they want to be truly independent they should let Susana Mendoza and Carol Ammons make suggestions on who should be part of the panel outside of anything attached to the Democratic Party,” Hampton said. “The fact that Susana Mendoza is on the panel is already a question in itself. I think if they want to have independence, they’re going to have to work for it.”

When he formed the panel, Madigan named three Democratic women as its leaders: Mendoza, state Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Urbana, and U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos.

But Bustos announced on April 18 that she was stepping down from the panel, citing legal reasons for withdrawing. Bustos wrote to Madigan that the decision was made after consulting with the “House Ethics Committee in the U.S. Congress, legal counsel and others,” and that it would be “impracticable” for her to serve on the independently funded panel.

Before Yarbrough stepped down, Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said committeemen and committeewoman believed Yarbrough “would be someone with good credentials” to be part of the panel.

“I guess if there’s controversy I don’t understand it because the people can be independent,” Brown said before Yarbrough’s resignation.

He noted Yarbrough’s ties to both Madigan and Quinn “are just the same as Mendoza.”

“We helped both of them, one at a statewide race and one in a county race,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t be one to question their integrity but if others want to join, so be it.”

After Bustos stepped down from the panel, Bush was selected to replace her.

The Anti-Harassment, Equality and Access Panel was formed in February by Madigan as the longtime speaker tried to do damage control after firing Kevin Quinn.

When he formed the panel, Madigan admitted he hadn’t done enough to combat sexual harassment. Two days later, he banned a second operative, Shaw Decremer, from his political organization because of allegations of bullying and harassment.

In a letter to members of the Democratic State Central Committee, Madigan said he asked Bustos, Mendoza and Ammons, to “take the lead on facilitating a statewide discussion about the role of women in the Democratic Party of Illinois … and how we can work to change the culture of politics.”

The trio later vowed to be independent of the state party and its leaders.

Calls to Mendoza and Ammons’ offices were not immediately returned.

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