No good ever comes from a workplace conversation that starts like this:
“I had a weird dream last night, and you made an appearance.”
As a rule, most of us know it’s best to keep our “weird dreams” to ourselves, or share them only with a spouse, therapist or very trusted friend and, even then, understand that you proceed at your own risk.
In this case, the person failing to heed those inner alarms was veteran state Sen. Ira Silverstein, a Chicago Democrat.
On the receiving end was Denise Rotheimer, a victims rights advocate from Ingleside who was pushing legislation that Silverstein had agreed to sponsor.
Rotheimer, 45, went public this past week with allegations of sexual harassment against Silverstein that she contends were swept under the rug by state officials.
Silverstein, 57, who is married to Ald. Debra Silverstein (50th), denied the accusations. But after Rotheimer testified at a legislative hearing on sexual harassment in state government, the senator was quickly stripped of his leadership post as majority caucus whip, along with the $21,000 pay bump that came with it. And that might not be the end of it.
To help make her case, Rotheimer released 444 pages of Facebook messages between her and Silverstein from June 29, 2015, to Nov. 28, 2016.
That’s a lot of Facebook messages. I have now read them all — a painful process, as you will understand from this Dec. 6, 2015, exchange that’s fairly representative of the whole.
Silverstein: “ii had a weird dream last night and you made an appearance”
Rotheimer: “Was I the star”
Silverstein: “i was the star”
Silverstein: “u have a big ego”
Rotheimer: “Then what was my role”
Rotheimer: “Did I appear in court was this about a case”
[The time stamp indicates they then exchanged messages without text, probably sending Facebook stickers, as was their practice.]
Silverstein: “is that what u dream about u r sick”
Rotheimer: “This is your dream not mine”
Rotheimer: “I give tell me”
Silverstein: “i have to think about it Attorney client privilege”
Rotheimer: “Haha. So it is court related.”
Silverstein: “no u r a little slow”
Rotheimer: “tell me already”
Silverstein: “at the proper time patience my dear”
Rotheimer: “Okay dear. I have patience”
This went on in a similar vein, day after day, week after week, many of the messages traded late at night.
Their conversations had the feel of flirtatious high-schoolers — lots of mindless exchanges that end like this one.
Silverstein: “good night u r mean”
Rotheimer: “Good night and I’m not mean!”
You don’t have to read too far between the lines to believe Silverstein was pushing a sexual agenda, particularly on Nov. 21, 2016, when he messaged: “i will check to see if u r a true blond.”
Yet Rotheimer told reporters Silverstein never outright propositioned her for sex. And she says she never tried to make him stop.
She explained she was afraid to confront him about his conduct because of the power he held over her legislative proposal, which sought to give crime victims a state-paid lawyer.
In the Facebook messages, Rotheimer mostly deflected Silverstein’s inappropriate comments, but she didn’t exactly keep things on a professional level, either.
At one point, she retained him to do legal work for her father, later told him she couldn’t afford to pay and, after he told her he was withdrawing from the case, told him she was: “Gonna jump in the whirlpool then steam away the pain.”
He responded: “please no pictures.”
Rotheimer tried to run for state representative as a Republican in 2016, failed to make the ballot and is running again.
Like too many men, Silverstein might not have realized he was out of line.
I have a dream … that seeing his embarrassing words in print will help others do better.