Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday rose to the defense of embattled Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan — by claiming that the raging debate about whether Madigan should stay or go misses the whole point of the #MeToo movement.
Four instances of sexual harassment and bullying in Madigan’s once-vaunted and impenetrable political organization have prompted calls for the state’s most powerful Democrat to step down as party chairman.
The drumbeat got louder — and even prompted questions about whether Madigan can hold on as speaker — after a new round of sexual harassment and bullying allegations prompted Madigan to force out his trusted chief of staff Tim Mapes. Mapes was also dropped as executive director of the Illinois Democratic Party.
So far, the mayor has managed to avoid that debate while preoccupied with his own re-election against a field of nine challengers.
On Tuesday, Emanuel couldn’t dodge the question any longer.
He was asked during an unrelated news conference whether he was concerned that women “might not vote for Democratic candidates” if the Illinois Democratic Party is still chaired by Madigan.
Emanuel responded by saying he “rejects the question 100 percent.” He called it a “bad way to look at it,” adding, “You’re not gonna solve a problem if you personalize it around one person.”
“Every industry, every sector is now dealing with the question of what happens in both their offices and the protocols around it. If you try to say it’s only about that person, you’re actually blinding yourself to actually finding a solution,” the mayor said.
“If individuals want to make a decision about how they’re gonna vote because of one person, they’ll make that. But if you try to solve the problems — not the politics, but actually deal with the whole issue of sexual politics in the office, in the workplace or in any other situation, it is not to think about it as one person any more than you think about it as one industry.”
The mayor then reminded the Channel 2 reporter who asked the question that his own network had a commentator who was forced out amid sexual harassment allegations. Emanuel never mentioned the name Charlie Rose.
“You had a national reporter who had problems. Do I say don’t watch CBS because you had a national problem? That’s really an antiquated, out-of-date way of thinking about it,” the mayor said.
When the reporter persisted, Emanuel said, “Don’t get defensive.” He was just getting started.
“The news industry has been affected. The entertainment industry has been affected. Politics has been affected. Every area has been affected because people are now … dealing with questions they haven’t dealt [with] before and should have — a long time ago. If what you do … is say that it’s about that person, then you’re putting up a wall … and not dealing with it,” the mayor said.
“To say … what are the political implications for women voters in the future — if they make that decision, okay. They have a right to. … But the real honest way to deal with the problem is not to think about the politics but to think about the solution and know that a lot of things that used to be a given no longer work. We’re in the middle of a major change — appropriately, long overdue — in every sector.”
The mayor’s decision to rise to the speaker’s defense — by changing the subject from whether Madigan should stay or go — is not surprising.
Emanuel and Madigan have developed a close working relationship over the past seven years that has paid huge dividends for Chicago.
The most obvious example was the school funding overhaul that brought the Chicago Public Schools back from the brink of bankruptcy by delivering a $450 million cash infusion to CPS.
That explains why Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), the mayor’s City Council floor leader, argued in late February that removing Madigan as chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party before the March 20 primary would be “like taking Eisenhower out as the troops are landing on Normandy.”
“I don’t think it helps us four weeks before an election to take the person who runs the statewide mechanism and say, `You’re out.’ We’re trying to actually win an election across the state,” said O’Connor, a Democratic ward committeeman. “It would be like taking Eisenhower out as the troops are landing on Normandy. We just need to make sure that we win this primary. Once the primary is over, then we can figure out where we need to be as a party to take on the Republicans moving forward.”