State Senate’s top two Dems oppose booting Sandoval from committee post — but others say it’s time

Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, on Wednesday joined Senate President John Cullerton in taking a wait-and-see attitude on Sandoval, whose home and Senate offices have been searched by federal agents.

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Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, left; Illinois Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford, right.

Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, left, in 2017; Illinois Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford, right, in February. File Photos.

John O’Connor/AP; Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

The two top Democrats in the state Senate see no reason to remove Sen. Martin Sandoval from his leadership position on a key committee despite a federal raid of his home and offices, putting them at odds with Gov. J.B. Pritzker and others in the Illinois Senate.

Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, on Wednesday joined Senate President John Cullerton in taking a wait-and-see attitude on Sandoval, whose Chicago home and Senate offices in Cicero and Springfield have been searched by federal agents.

FBI agents were seeking evidence of kickbacks in exchange for official actions — as well as information related to five Illinois Department of Transportation employees and several lobbyists — when they raided Sandoval’s office in the Capitol building two weeks ago, records show.

Men carrying boxes and a bag marked “evidence” leave the Illinois State Capital in Springfield in September.

Men carrying boxes and a bag marked “evidence” leave the Illinois State Capital in Springfield two weeks ago. File Photo.

John O’Connor/AP

Both Cullerton and Lightford argue that the Southwest Side Democrat — who is also a Majority Caucus Whip — has not been charged with any crime.

“Clearly from a social justice perspective, I don’t feel comfortable calling for the punishment of someone who hasn’t been charged,” Lightford told the Chicago Sun-Times.

But signaling a sign of dissension, Assistant Majority Leader Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, told the newspaper that it’s time for Sandoval to step down from the committee.

“It would be wise for Marty Sandoval to step down as chair of the Transportation Committee while this investigation unfolds,” Harmon said.

State Senate President Don Harmon in 2017.

State Sen. Don Harmon shown in 2017. File Photo.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

A day after the federal raid last month, Cullerton called the news “obviously very troubling.” But he said he’d “wait and see what happens” — since Sandoval has not been charged.

In an updated statement, Cullerton spokesman John Patterson on Wednesday said the Senate President “will continue to monitor the situation.”

“As the Senate President has said, clearly recent events are troubling. At the same time, Senator Sandoval has not been accused of any wrong doing,” the statement said. “The Senate President will continue to monitor the situation and take appropriate action as developments warrant.”

Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, left, is handed an oversized gavel by Illinois Sen. Martin Sandoval in 2013.

Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, left, is handed an oversized gavel by Illinois Sen. Martin Sandoval in 2013.

Seth Perlman/AP

Lightford on Wednesday said she believes Cullerton “will take the appropriate action when the time comes.”

“Everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty and if the evidence is there, I’m sure we will have more information soon,” she said.

Lightford, too, wished Sandoval and his family “well.”

On Monday, state Sen. Laura Murphy, D-Des Plaines, took the lead in responding to questions about Sandoval’s committee leadership assignment at an unrelated Chicago news conference alongside Pritzker and other legislators. There was a long awkward pause before Murphy took the mic — and Pritzker reiterated he had already taken a position.

“It’s a really difficult time, but during the investigation I think that Sen. Sandoval should step down from his chair of Transportation,” Murphy said. Harmon and State Sen. Elgie Sims, D-Chicago, were also at the podium.

Then state Sen. Martin Sandoval in 2008.

Sen. Martin Sandoval argues on the Senate floor in 2008. File Photo.

Seth Perlman/AP file

The tension could come to a head when legislators return to Springfield on Oct. 28 for the first of two veto sessions. Sandoval has been missing-in-action since the raid, and political insiders suspect he’s unlikely to show up at the statehouse.

Last week Pritzker said he had urged Cullerton to ask Sandoval to step down as chairman of the committee or remove him if he won’t go voluntarily.

“We must assure the public that this work [the capital plan] is on the up and up,” Pritzker told reporters. “Corruption and self-dealing will not be tolerated.”

Sandoval and IDOT officials had long clashed over whether to allow recycled asphalt shingles in road construction, according to Pritzker’s office. Sandoval pushed for it, while IDOT opposed it. Sandoval tried several times to insert his position into the state’s capital bill but failed.

The move would have benefitted a long-time supporter of Sandoval, businessman and asphalt magnate Michael Vondra, a source said.

Just two days after the Sandoval raid, federal agents hit government offices around Chicago as part of an ongoing criminal investigation, this time swooping down on three southwest suburban villages that have historically drawn the feds’ interest.

Agents visited McCook village hall — where Cook County Commissioner Jeff Tobolski is mayor — as well as the village halls in Lyons and Summit. They also visited Getty Insurance in Lyons, the agency of Lyons Mayor Christopher Getty, in the latest public display of what appears to be an aggressive campaign by the feds against alleged political corruption in Illinois.

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