One day after she would only apologize for her words being “misinterpreted,” state Rep. Stephanie Kifowit on Wednesday offered her “sincere apology” for wishing death by Legionnaire’s disease on a Republican’s relative.
And the Oswego Democrat went a step further, moving to have the General Assembly strike her earlier remarks from the official record. On Tuesday, she had only sought “to clarify” her statement.
Her verbal attack on Rep. Peter Breen, R-Lombard, set off a firestorm of criticism from Republicans, with some calling for Kifowit to step down. Others suggested Governor-elect J.B. Pritzker should kick her off a committee that the Democrat named her to earlier this month to advise him on veterans issues.
“To the representative from Lombard, I would like to make him a broth of Legionella and pump it into the water system of his loved one so that they can be infected, they can be mistreated, they can sit and suffer by getting aspirin instead of being properly treated and ultimately die,” Kifowit said on the House floor on Tuesday.
Kifowit’s controversial comments were directed at Breen, the House Republican floor leader who lost his election earlier this month. They came just before a vote to override Gov. Bruce Rauner’s amendatory veto of a bill to increase the cap the state pays in civil litigation cases. The legislation was meant to help the families of those affected by the deadly Legionnaires’ disease outbreak at the Illinois Veterans Home in Downstate Quincy.
Kifowit supported the override. Breen did not.
Kifowit — a U.S. Marine Corps veteran serving her third term in the House — on Wednesday morning released a statement offering her “sincere apology to Representative Peter Breen, his family, and all of my House colleagues, for my poor choice of words during a serious discussion on our Veterans’ health and safety.”
“I would never wish any harm or mortality on anyone’s family, including the Breen family,” Kifowit said.
Kifowit said it was an “attempt to illustrate empathy for the families that were affected by the loss of their loved ones” and was “not conveyed properly.”
In addition to an e-mail blast of her apology, Kifowit read her statement aloud to her colleagues on the House floor. And she asked the House to strike her Tuesday remarks, which it did by a vote of 110-0.
Soon after Kifowit read her apology, Breen addressed the controversy, while also urging legislators to act with more “civility” and “decency.”
“Earlier this year, I received a death threat that prompted police protection for my home and family. And my family and I endured a vile, filthy election campaign with $2.5 million spent to falsely connect me to rapists and child molesters. And yesterday, we all listened as a member of this House leveled a heinous death wish on my family.”
Breen said his wife and two adopted sons — ages 2 and 2-months are “the joy of our lives.”
“We know that if the representative had made that statement to me in the parking lot outside or left it on my office phone voicemail, she’d be in custody right now,” Breen said. “But because she made her remarks right here, they were met with applause, instead of handcuffs.”
Breen said it’s up to legislators “to decide which path our state will follow going forward.”
“Whether the high road or the low road, the people of Illinois are watching to see the response will be,” Breen said.
Kifowit’s initial remarks came just before the Illinois House voted 71-36 to override Rauner’s amendatory veto of the bill to increase the cap the state pays in civil litigation cases from $100,000 to $2 million. Thirteen residents of the veterans home in Quincy have died, and dozens others were sickened from the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak. Twelve families have filed suit.
Kifowit sought “to clarify” her comments later Tuesday — saying she “quite clearly” wanted Breen to imagine “if it was your family, hypothetically speaking.” But she did not immediately apologize, arguing that Republicans had “misrepresented” and mischaracterized her words.
“And for that, for it being misinterpreted, I will apologize,” Kifowit said on the House floor Tuesday. “But I will not apologize for what happened to those families. And I will clearly say to all of us, imagine if it was your family.”
Saying “Illinois Democrats sunk to a new low,” Republican Party Chairman Tim Schneider on Tuesday demanded Kifowit’s resignation from the General Assembly and called on Pritzker to weigh in on her remarks.
Pritzker had named Kifowit to a 19-member panel he announced on Veterans Day. Dubbed the Serving Illinois’ Heroes Committee, it was to advise the Democrat’s transition team on issues affecting men and women who served in the armed forces. On Wednesday, a Pritzker spokeswoman said Kifowit went “too far” in her words, but that the governor-elect looks forward to working with her on the committee.
“It is clear that during the course of an emotional debate over the Legionnaires’ crisis in Quincy Representative Kifowit’s rhetoric went too far and she rightfully apologized,” spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said.
The statement continued that Pritzker wanted to “keep the focus on protecting” veterans, and that Pritzker “looks forward to working with” the Serving Illinois’ Heroes Committee “to ensure the administration is ready to serve veterans on Day One in office.”