Woman to accuse ‘leading’ state legislator of ‘abuse of power,’ activist says

SHARE Woman to accuse ‘leading’ state legislator of ‘abuse of power,’ activist says

Denise Rotheimer testifies before an Illinois House committee in Chicago Tuesday on a sexual harassment bill. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

SPRINGFIELD — A victim rights advocate whose accusations helped unseat a veteran Chicago senator says she’ll stand beside a #metoo victim who will unleash accusations against a key lawmaker Thursday in the Capitol.

Denise Rotheimer says she’s scheduled a 1 p.m. news conference on Thursday to help support a “female activist” who endured “abuse” by a “leading lawmaker.”

Rotheimer said a similar incident happened last week to a female legislator, who has not come forward.

“I can’t discuss the name of the person who was being abused in Springfield but I am aware of it and the abuser is the same person [who abused] this woman,” Rotheimer said. “So I let her know about what happened last week and wanted to see if she’d be able to come out because this is happening to another woman, who happens to be a legislator.”

“This is abuse of power,” she said, adding the abuse was not a form of sexual harassment.

Rotheimer testified in late October before a House committee that state Sen. Silverstein, D-Chicago, used “power” and “mind games” with her as she tried to advance legislation to help crime victims pay for legal care. She also accused Silverstein of killing her bill when he thought she had a boyfriend. Rotheimer said she felt like she had no control.

But a newly seated legislative inspector general in a January report concluded that Silverstein did not engage in sexual harassment “or other unlawful conduct,” but “he did behave in a manner unbecoming a legislator in violation of the Illinois Governmental Ethics Act.”

But even after being cleared of sexual harassment, Silverstein lost a bid for re-election in the March primary after serving as a state senator for nearly 20 years.

Rotheimer said she encouraged the woman to come forward so that others come out.

“Because this has to stop. The culture hasn’t changed, especially in leadership,” Rotheimer said.

“This isn’t just about women being sexually harassed. It’s about abuse of a power dynamic, and they’re abusing their positions,” Rotheimer said. “And what happened last week, like a [U.S. Sen.] Cory Booker kind of thing and it’s just appalling to me that nobody does anything and allows it to go on only because the perps are in a position of leadership, and they can destroy your career and ruin your reputation.”

Booker, a New Jersey senator, endured negative headlines in January and was forced to defend his questioning of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen during a hearing after the Republican National Committee accused him of “mansplaining.” In a CNN interview, Booker defended his comments — and they were made after Nielsen said she didn’t hear President Trump call several African countries, Haiti and El Salvador “shithole countries.”

Rotheimer said she would not disclose who the activist would name, but said the alleged “abuse of power” was not related to state Rep. Kelly Cassidy’s retaliation claims last week.

Cassidy, who worked part-time for the Cook County Sheriff’s office, went public last week 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’s response of sexual harassment complaints. 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 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.

And Madigan wrote in a letter to Cassidy that he didn’t take actions to “interfere” with her employment — saying he also didn’t direct anyone else to do so. He also vowed to cooperate fully with any probe conducted by Legislative Inspector General Julie Porter.

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