The latest string of damning harassment allegations on Wednesday struck at the heart of House Speaker Mike Madigan and his organizations.
And it led to an obvious question: Will the longest serving statehouse speaker in the U.S. survive the #MeToo movement?
Tim Mapes, the speaker’s chief of staff, the clerk of the Illinois House of Representatives and the executive director of the Democratic Party of Illinois found himself ousted from all positions just hours after a longtime speaker’s office employee, Sherri Garrett, went public with what she called “harassment” and “bullying” allegations.
The quick response to cast out one of Madigan’s closest advisers is a surefire sign the powerful speaker and chairman of the state’s Democratic Party is worried that a hurricane of #MeToo allegations will impact not only his governmental operations but also the party just months before a general election.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker was the first to launch a preemptive strike at Mapes after the allegations surfaced, calling on him to resign from all posts if an investigation confirmed the claims. That was a necessary first step for Pritzker to distance himself from the scandal, and there’s little doubt that there wasn’t communication between the party and the billionaire philanthropist who last week contributed $5 million to the party to help Democrats in down-ballot state races.
The governor’s office applauded women who have come forward to tell their stories in recent months, while also blaming the culture on Madigan.
“In recent months, women have stepped forward to share their stories involving the legislature – we applaud their bravery,” spokeswoman Rachel Bold said. “To the women who haven’t stepped forward, who have their own stories to tell, know that we plan to act swiftly to ensure an independent process is in place to investigate future allegations and the culture Speaker Madigan has created.”
The claims against Mapes come less than a week after Deputy Majority Leader Lou Lang found himself stripped of his leadership post and from his role with the Legislative Ethics Commission amid Maryann Loncar’s claims that he repeatedly harassed, intimidated and retaliated against her — all allegations Lang dismissed.
On Wednesday, Garrett, an account technician and minutes clerk for the speaker’s office, detailed several incidents that she said are indicative of a “serious and pervasive problem in our state government.”
“Over the course of the last several years, I have endured and have personally witnessed bullying and repeated harassment that was often sexual and sexist in nature in my workplace,” she said, noting Mapes had made “repeated inappropriate comments to me, both in the office and on the House floor.”
Her voice faltering at times, Garrett described how difficult it has been to come forward.
“I’m loyal to [Madigan]. This is very hard for me, but I’ve just suffered one disappointment after another with how things are handled,” she said.
Garrett spoke of brash conversations either overheard or had with Mapes regarding a wave of sexual harassment problems in Springfield.
In one instance in April, Garrett claims she heard Mapes tell a colleague, “Are you going to sex training today?” That was in reference to mandatory sexual harassment training which state employees, members of the Illinois General Assembly and their staff and lobbyists had to undergo as part of Madigan’s response to a harassment problem under the dome.
Other examples included a December 2014 conversation in which Mapes allegedly told her not show her “pink bra” at an inauguration event. In two other incidents, Garrett claims Mapes swept harassment allegations under the rug when women came to her with allegations of sexual harassment.
In one, Garrett said she was approached by a young woman in September 2015 who had worked in the clerk’s office. She alleged sexual harassment allegations against a member of the House Democratic Caucus and came to Garrett.
When Garrett told Mapes about the situation, Mapes allegedly told Garrett; “Are you reporting the situation because you are upset the representative isn’t paying attention to you?”
Garrett said there is no “safe path” in Springfield for women to report harassment. She said she hasn’t gone directly to Madigan because she’d have to make an appointment through Mapes.
She said the speaker’s office should be held to the “highest standard.”
“Instead, they behave like they are above reproach, and the speaker’s office is a locker room,” Garrett said.
In a statement, Madigan said he did not know of Garrett’s complaints against Mapes, while also naming Jessica Basham as his chief of staff effective immediately.
“Regarding Ms. Garrett’s concerns shared earlier today, neither I or the House Democratic Ethics Officer had been made aware of Ms. Garrett’s complaints against Tim Mapes,” Madigan said in a statement.
He also spoke of a “culture” change: “It is clear that the culture needs to change and we need to ensure all issues are dealt with quickly and appropriately.
“I have stated my commitment to eliminating harassment of any kind in the Capitol, as well as all political committees, and my desire to ensure we create a culture where individuals feel secure in making a complaint. I intend to appoint an individual with extensive experience conducting investigations to review all operations of the House of Representatives, including but not limited to the Clerk’s Office where Ms. Garrett works.”
While both Lang and Mapes’ resignation shows Madigan is taking swift action in response to the claims, some still questioned the tactic. State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, who criticized Madigan’s response to harassment allegations in February and last month detailed allegations of retaliation from Mapes and a key Democratic Madigan ally, said the response is nothing new.
“This is the lather, rinse, repeat that I talked about in February. We now need the real change that follows,” Cassidy said. “We need to see what leadership looks like. When he keeps saying he’s committed to make change and bringing an end to this culture, it goes beyond firing people. Because we’ve seen this before and here we are again.”
Cassidy said Madigan’s response of forcing people out is “the same play.”
“I think in each case he hopes it goes away,” Cassidy said. “It’s not that simple.”
As for calls for the speaker to resign amid the latest scandal, many Democratic lawmakers were mum — for a multitude of reasons. Some remembered support they received from Madigan on bills they were pushing. Others thought Madigan’s leadership in the Democratic Party shouldn’t be rocked during an important election year.
“That’s a decision for the whole caucus,” Cassidy said about whether Madigan should step down. “My involvement here is about making our workplace safer.”
State Rep. Litesa Wallace, D-Rockford, tweeted out a simple “Noted,” in response to Mapes’ resignation.
Lawmakers said that was Mapes standard reply to hundreds of emails he received. Wallace — who penned an op-ed in November describing a culture of sexual harassment towards women in government — said “there was nothing comical about that” tweet.
“That was me noting the resignation,” Wallace said, adding she wasn’t surprised to hear of the resignation.
The shocking exit had one whistleblower banking on a wave of momentum to help uncover other allegations. 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.
“To other victims considering coming forward — now is the time,” Hampton said. “Momentum is on our side. When we stand together and bring our stories into the light, we are all safer and stronger.”