EDITORIAL: Tim Mapes, Mike Madigan and the mess in Springfield politics

A report by a former federal prosecutor lays bare the culture of intimidation and harassment under the speaker’s onetime right-hand man.

SHARE EDITORIAL: Tim Mapes, Mike Madigan and the mess in Springfield politics
Then House Speaker Mike Madigan’s chief of staff, Tim Mapes, left, in 2007; Speaker Mike Madigan, right, in 2017.

Seth Perlman/AP file; Rich Hein/Chicago Sun-Times file

For more than two decades, everyone who worked in Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan’s office apparently feared a “Tim moment.”

Tim, as in Tim Mapes, Madigan’s former right-hand man, whose 26-year reign has now been laid bare in a sweeping 201-page report on harassment in state politics.

The report, released Tuesday, pulls no punches: In his “moments,” Mapes bullied, intimidated, threatened and berated Madigan employees and even Democratic state representatives.

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“The number of independently verified instances of Mr. Mapes’ derogatory behavior was overwhelming,” Maggie Hickey, the former state inspector general who led the year-long investigation, concluded in her report. “Mr. Mapes had a reputation for denigrating workers and threatening their jobs.”

Report the harassment? To whom, since Mapes ran the show for Madigan and felt free to ignore the speaker’s personnel rules and regulations?

Find another job? Sure, but if you got on the wrong side of Mapes, he might have one of his “moments” and call up your prospective employer to bad-mouth and discourage the person from hiring you.

All in all, Hickey’s report makes it clear that the speaker’s office was a toxic mess of a workplace while Mapes was in charge. It might still be, except Mapes finally got the boot by Madigan last year after veteran employee Sherri Garrett publicly accused Mapes of sexual harassment and bullying.

“To be clear, Mr. Mapes’ comments [toward Garrett], while sometimes sexual in nature, were not sexual advances,” Hickey wrote. “Instead, Mr. Mapes was exerting power over Ms. Garrett by making inappropriate statements toward or around her that he knew or should have known would make her uncomfortable.”

Now the culture of intimidation and harassment in Springfield is Madigan’s to clean up. Which is only right, since Madigan created a fertile field for it to sprout, by giving Mapes far too much power: chief of staff in 1991, executive director of the Democratic Party of Illinois in 1998 and clerk of the House in 2011.

Meanwhile, Madigan rarely interacted with his workers, Hickey reported.

Madigan now says he “take[s] responsibility for not doing enough previously to prevent issues in my office.” All well and good — and Hickey gives the powerful speaker credit for taking steps to create a healthier workplace.

She recommends that Madigan be more visible around his own office, which seems like the first thing he ought to do if he truly didn’t know what Mapes was up to.

Madigan, as the boss, rightly is shouldering the blame here, but Mapes is ultimately responsible for his own bad behavior. In a statement, Mapes apologized but gave lame excuses — he had “many responsibilities,” “did my best,” and was only trying to make the speaker’s office “efficient and effective.”

Plenty of people have jobs with lots of responsibility, and work hard to be efficient and effective. And they do it without being jerks.

The report found no evidence to substantiate claims by state Rep. Kelly Cassidy that Madigan and some of his allies retaliated against her for speaking out about how Madigan was handling harassment allegations. The report also exonerates state Rep. Lou Lang of sexual harassment allegations.

Still, in the era of #MeToo, it was these and other allegations of harassment and bullying in Springfield that led to the investigation.

We knew politics in Springfield could be a dirty business. Now we know just how dirty it’s been.

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