SPRINGFIELD —Deputy Majority Leader Lou Lang spent his Wednesday night on the Illinois House floor, heralding the rights of women and helping to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.
Less than 24 hours later, the Skokie Democrat found himself stripped of his leadership post amid a woman’s claims that he repeatedly harassed, intimidated and retaliated against her — all allegations Lang dismissed as “absurdities.”
Even so, the drastic turn of events shows the huge impact the #MeToo movement, or at least the fear of it, has had in the state’s Capitol.
Maryann Loncar went public with the claims on Thursday afternoon, just as the House debated a budget bill. She stood alongside Denise Rotheimer, the victim rights advocate whose accusations helped unseat state Sen. Ira Silverstein, a veteran Chicago senator.
“I was harassed. I was intimidated. I was humiliated.” Loncar said of Lang, the House deputy majority leader. Loncar said the Skokie Democrat committed “terrible acts against her.”
Among her allegations, Loncar said Lang once put his hand on her lower back and asked her if she knew “how lucky” her husband was to have a wife like her. In another instance, Loncar said Lang called her during dinner and asked if she was alone, remarking that he’d like to join her.
Lang held his own news conference and issued a statement calling for an investigation of the accusations and announcing his resignation as House deputy majority leader and other leadership posts. But he also attacked Loncar’s motives, saying she was upset because she failed to win a license to dispense medical marijuana.
“Because I refused to let the medical marijuana profiteers trump the interests of patients, I made some people mad,” Lang said. “So be it.”
WATCH: Lang responds to accusation of abuse during press conference
At his news conference, Lang surrounded himself with women legislators and lobbyists who voiced support for him.
“From beginning to end the allegations are absurd,” Lang said of Loncar’s charges. “This is a person who did not get what she wanted out of state government. She apparently blamed me for that.”
Loncar, 51, also claimed Lang disliked her because she learned “bad information” about him. She alleged she experienced retaliation from Lang after she learned of an attempted bribe. She was not at that meeting, but alleged that a medical cannabis operator tried to offer up a bribe of “$170 something million” in front of Lang and two Democratic senators at a Capitol meeting. She claims she thwarted that effort by going to the media.
In 2015, Loncar emailed several reporters, including a Sun-Times reporter, claiming there was a “secret meeting in the capital on pay to play medical cannabis.”
“We stopped Medponics from offering the state 168 million for all the licenses. Google that name…the advocates were left out because we didn’t pay to play…,” Loncar wrote in an email.
But Mike Graham, the man she said was in the meeting, told the Sun-Times in a Facebook message that Loncar “misspoke on the ‘bribe’ verbiage.” He said the meeting happened on Dec. 4, 2012 with stakeholders. Graham said Medponics owners said they could give $170 million for all operations, and those in the room, including Lang, “erupted” with no’s.
“Lang was never directly offered or demanded anything,” Graham wrote. “Maryann was just overwhelmed by the enormity of the situation.”
Medponics in 2015 sued the Illinois Department of Agriculture and Bedford Grow, a permit winner in Chicago. They claimed the department broke rules when selecting permit applicants.
Loncar also claimed Lang killed a hemp farming bill she had been advocating for, a claim many organizations are disputing.
Jen Walling, executive director and lobbyist on behalf of the Illinois Environmental Council, said the initial hemp farming bill “wasn’t killed because of Lou Lang.”
“That is absolutely not true,” Walling said, adding that the measure failed because an agreement couldn’t be reached with the Medical Cannabis Association. A revamped Industrial Hemp Bill was sent to the governor on Wednesday after being passed by the state Senate.
Walling called Loncar a “citizen advocate,” who was not involved in negotiations or in any meetings regarding the initial hemp bill.
“I’m not belittling her other claims but I’m absolutely sure that Lou did not kill this bill,” Walling said.
Loncar also claimed Lang called her ex-husband and said “I can help you bury her if you want.” She said she did not call police about that alleged threat and did not plan to file a report. Loncar said she did not trust the police.
“When they call your ex-husband and tell you they’re going to bury you, that’s not politics. That’s not hardball. That’s direct retaliation,” Loncar said.
Loncar contended most of the behavior happened at the Globe Tavern in Springfield. She said she has documented her allegations but did not plan to release those examples.
The allegations come a day after the Illinois House finally passed the Equal Rights Amendment, an effort led by Lang.
“This is a leader who very hypocritically sponsored the Equal Rights Amendment yesterday and yet is known to be a bully to many members, both in his actions and his words and his tone,” state Rep Jeanne Ives, who was also at the press conference, said.
In his statement, Lang did not address the specific allegations against him, instead slamming Loncar’s motives. He said he also submitted a formal request to the Special Legislative Inspector General to launch an investigation. Lang wrote that he was stepping down from his leadership post “to avoid distraction from the agenda of the House Democratic Caucus.”
Shortly after Lang announced his resignation as leader, House Speaker Mike Madigan issued his own statement, voicing appreciation for the “courage it takes for individuals to come forward to share their experiences” and saying Lang’s resignations came “after consultation with me.”
Lang said he spoke with the speaker about his decision on Thursday, resigning from his leadership post as well as the Legislative Ethics Commission and the Joint Commission on Administrative Rules.
Madigan has had to defend the state Democratic party’s handling of sexual harassment for months.
In February, Alaina Hampton, a former campaign consultant, outlined accusations against Madigan aide Kevin Quinn — a younger brother of Ald. Marty Quinn (13th) — claiming he sent her barrages of unwanted text messages and phone calls in pursuit of a romantic and sexual relationship. Hampton has since filed a federal lawsuit against the powerful Illinois House speaker’s political committee and the state Democratic party, over the “severe and persistent sexual harassment” that she suffered and says went ignored for nearly a year despite her complaints.
Hampton on Thursday said she hadn’t been contacted by Loncar about her allegations. And she called Lang’s press conference “a perfect example of why victims don’t come forward.
“To see so many Democratic women standing with and singing the praises of a powerful man, just hours after he was accused of harassment, in an effort to undermine his accuser, was truly disheartening,” Hampton said in a statement. “To the women who stood with Rep. Lang today – think about what message you sent to all of us who have been victimized by men in power in Springfield.”
Madigan has come under fire for his handling of the complaints, but he has resisted increasing calls from some Democrats that he step down as state party chairman. At a Springfield news conference in February, Madigan said that his office has been there for potential harassment victims and has handled cases “according to protocol.”
“I’m not resigning. I’m moving forward,” he said. “I’m working with this particular issue, and we’re going to work our way through it.”
Lang echoed a similar sentiment on Thursday: “This is nothing. The allegations are absurd. I’m running in November and as far Novembers in the future as I can imagine.”