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Is the speaker hearing the ‘message’? Or just mouthing the words?

House Speaker Michael Madigan, left, addresses the City Club of Chicago at the University Club of Chicago in 2015. File Photo.| Rich Hein/Sun-Times; State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, right, speaks at a hearing last year. File Photo. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times.

Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan on Tuesday moved quickly to quash the latest scandal spattering his operation, directly disputing an allegation of retaliation and calling for an investigation into his own chief of staff and a key legislative ally.

The powerful Southwest Side Democrat vowed to cooperate fully with any probe conducted by Legislative Inspector General Julie Porter into state Rep. Kelly Cassidy’s charges that Madigan’s allies retaliated against her after she criticized the speaker’s handling of harassment complaints. But Cassidy dismissed Madigan’s denials as the “discredit-the-target portion of the program.”

And while some lawmakers deemed his efforts genuine, others noted the longest serving statehouse speaker in the U.S. might be experiencing a wake up call that may move the #metoo movement further along in the state.

ANALYSIS

“Men of his age, I think that it’s in some ways still surprising. I think that he is seeing, I hope, that he is seeing how serious women are about the fact that we’re not just going to tolerate being treated differently, being intimidated, harassed,” state Sen. Melinda Bush, D-Grayslake, said. “That we’re going to stand up. The #metoo movement was a really powerful movement, and women are not going to go back. I think that it appears to be that the speaker is responding to that message.”

Is Madigan, who turned 76 last month, ready for a full investigation of his own operation? Or is he just going through the motions for political cover?

State Sen. Melinda Bush in 2016.
State Sen. Melinda Bush in 2016. File Photo. | Santiago Covarrubias/Sun-Times
Santiago Covarrubias/Sun-Times file

The speaker has faced down serious trouble — and called for investigations — before.

In 2013, he requested a report from the executive inspector general as controversy brewed over former Metra CEO Alex Clifford and a giant severance package he received. The Sun-Times called it “perhaps the greatest ethics quandary he’s faced in more than a decade” and a “bombshell” that threatened damage to Madigan’s brand.

But the case was closed with the inspector general concluding that there was “no violation of any law.”

Madigan’s frenetic day began on Tuesday morning when he hand delivered a letter to Cassidy, denying retaliation against the North Side Democrat, who was among the first to criticize the speaker’s handling of sexual harassment allegations.

“I have no idea why you feel that I am somehow retaliating against you as a result of your criticisms, particularly given that I agreed to your requests for an outside counsel and an independent review,” Madigan wrote.

And within hours, Madigan, sent another letter, this one to Legislative Inspector General Julie Porter, both asking her to investigate Cassidy’s claims and vowing to cooperate.

House Speaker Mike Madigan listens to a reporter’s question at a news conference in Springfield earlier this year. Screen image.
House Speaker Mike Madigan listens to a reporter’s question at a news conference in Springfield earlier this year. Screen image.

While “heartened” by the speaker’s request for Porter to investigate, Cassidy questioned the independence of the investigation.

“She [Porter] doesn’t have true independence. She can’t subpoena without the permission of the members,” Cassidy said. “There’s no transparency at all. The process is rather byzantine and ripe with dead ends.”

Despite Madigan’s denial, Cassidy said she’s receiving an outpouring of support.

“I can’t walk five feet without someone, a staff member, a lobbyist, another member, grabbing me, hugging me and saying, ‘Thank you for doing what we can’t do,’” Cassidy said.

The Illinois Senate Women’s Caucus in a statement vowed its public support for Cassidy and an independent investigation into her claims.

“Rep. Cassidy had the courage to come forward and discuss her experiences. We stand in support of Cassidy,” the caucus said in a statement. “The Capitol must not be a place for retaliation, harassment or intimidation of any kind.”

Democratic members of the Illinois House are also working on holding a meeting with Cassidy about her allegations, Cassidy said.

State Rep. Kelly Cassidy meeting with the Sun-Times Editorial Board last year. File Photo| Rich Hein/Sun-Times
State Rep. Kelly Cassidy meeting with the Sun-Times Editorial Board last year. File Photo| Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Cassidy, who worked part-time for the Cook County Sheriff’s office, went public Monday with allegations that she endured retaliation — with an employment check-in from Madigan’s chief of staff Tim Mapes just days after she criticized the longtime speaker.

Cassidy also said state Rep. Bob Rita, a longtime Madigan ally, questioned how she could oppose a bill supported by her “boss,” Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart. The sheriff’s office has said Cassidy resigned because she opposed a bill the sheriff’s office had been strongly pushing — a measure that would place inmates on the sex offender registry upon release if they expose themselves or masturbate in front of female staffers more than two times.

But in a letter given to Cassidy on Tuesday, Madigan wrote that he didn’t take actions to “interfere” with her employment — saying he also didn’t direct anyone else to do so.

“As for Representative Rita’s bill, no one in my office had discussed this specific bill with him, so I cannot comment on his concerns about your opposition to the legislation,” Madigan wrote in the letter, which was also sent to all House Democratic members.

Cassidy called the denial the “discredit-the-target portion of the program.”

She said the letter is “missing the forest for the trees.”

Robert “Bob” Rita, 2018 primary candidate and incumbent for Illinois House in the 28th District. | Provided photo
Robert “Bob” Rita, 2018 primary candidate and incumbent for Illinois House in the 28th District. | Provided photo

“The point is not my opposition to the bill, which was no secret to them and certainly wasn’t a problem for them until Bob Rita did this,” Cassidy said. “He took the bill to come after me. He doesn’t care about the sheriff or this bill. He doesn’t work in that arena. He doesn’t do criminal justice stuff. I think the more we focus on that, the more we miss the reality.”

Cassidy said it doesn’t matter whether the speaker directed actions, but it is representative of a culture within his organization.

In February, a lawyer for political consultant Alaina Hampton sent a “cease and desist” letter to a man whom the believed was trying to find “dirt” on Hampton — the woman whose sexual harassment allegations led Madigan to fire a longtime aide who is the brother of the ward’s alderman. Jack Hynes, the man in question, called it a “casual conversation” and denied that he acted on behalf of anyone, especially the speaker or his staff.

Alaina Hampton speaks at a press conference
Alaina Hampton speaks at a press conference March. File Photo. | Erin Brown/Sun-Times
Erin Brown/Sun-Times

But Cassidy said “this is how this works.”

“This is what happens. People close to him take action. We’ve seen it time and time and time again,” Cassidy said. “So for him to say that he didn’t do it, I think is irrelevant.”

Hampton tweeted that she was thankful women legislators were supporting Cassidy “the way they haven’t supported me,” noting Cassidy stood with her “when no one else would.”

Speaking to reporters in Springfield on Tuesday, Rita denied that he was trying to intimidate Cassidy. He also said he didn’t speak with Madigan about the bill in question.

Meanwhile, the Democratic candidate for governor, J.B. Pritzker, praised Kelly for coming forward, while calling for an independent investigation.

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