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Pritzker: ‘Everybody in Springfield’ to blame for bullying and harassment culture — not just Mike Madigan

Pritzker would only say that he’s “counting on the speaker” as well as the other legislative leaders “to carry out functions that will safeguard women.” The governor said it’s a clear problem on both sides of the aisle.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, left; state House Speaker Mike Madigan, right.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker, left, speaks during a bill signing last month; state House Speaker Mike Madigan, right, addresses the City Club of Chicago, at the University Club of in 2015. File Photos. 
Amr Alfiky/AP; Rich Hein/Chicago Sun-Times

A day after an explosive report revealed years of bullying under the reign of Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan’s chief of staff, Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Wednesday dodged questions about whether he’s still confident in the speaker’s leadership.

While highlighting that Tim Mapes’ behavior “was a special kind of discrimination,” the Democratic governor came prepared to paint harassment and bullying as a more general problem in Springfield.

“Everybody in Springfield, in a way, we’ve let this culture go on,” Pritzker said at an unrelated bill signing in Chicago. “I showed up seven months ago, but this culture has been around for a long time.”

Former state inspector general Maggie Hickey’s 201-page missive took aim at Mapes’ leadership style, while generally portraying the speaker in a positive light — despite Mapes being the powerful Democrat’s right-hand man for 26 years.

Most of those interviewed, Hickey wrote in the report, “agreed that Mr. Mapes commonly threatened people’s jobs or reminded them that they were dispensable.”

Timothy Mapes (right), former chief of staff for Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Timothy Mapes, right, former chief of staff for Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Associated Press file photo

Mapes defended himself after the report’s release, insisting, “I always acted in good faith and for the benefit of the people of the State of Illinois.”

“If my demeanor or approach to my job did not instill trust and a healthy work environment, I apologize,” he said in a statement.

Pivoting to Mapes, Pritzker called his behavior “a special kind of discrimination” while offering a smidgeon of criticism for Madigan.

“You can’t put people in positions of power who hold those kinds of views of work, and clearly had those views for many years,” Pritzker said.

“I think we need to hold everybody accountable, frankly, and that also means that we need to address the culture. That’s the biggest thing,” Pritzker said. “You can’t just announce that this is a problem. You have to be persistent and consistent about addressing it. People need to be reminded.”

“You read in that report, people did not feel comfortable coming forward because the person they were reporting to was somebody who didn’t want to hear it, wouldn’t do anything about it, might hurt them,” Pritzker said.

But what about the speaker?

Pritzker would only say that he’s “counting on the speaker” as well as the other legislative leaders “to carry out functions that will safeguard women.” The governor said it’s a clear problem on both sides of the aisle. He also said he supported the release of public information regarding harassment investigations.

“You want to protect people’s privacy while you’re doing those investigations but once those investigations are completed, and people need to be held accountable, that should all be made public,” Pritzker said.

Despite Hickey’s description of a pervasive and troubling workplace culture, the former federal prosecutor and inspector general gave credit to Madigan for his office taking steps to address concerns, including the firing of two of his operatives; retaining an attorney to review allegations; creating a women’s panel and publicly releasing complaints.

Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, too, brought in an outside firm for a two-month review of workplace culture, which included interviews in both Springfield and Chicago. The firm Alvarez and Marsal ultimately expanded the harassment section of the House Republican staff’s rules handbook to include more resources for employees who are subject to harassment.

And the Illinois Senate last year assembled a bipartisan task force that included outside experts to look into harassment in the public and private sector. The results of that led to 13 new laws targeting harassment and discrimination, including a measure Pritzker signed into law this month which tries to prevent harassment and protect victims who come forward.