SPRINGFIELD — J.B. Pritzker on Wednesday tiptoed around criticizing Mike Madigan over the state Democratic Party chairman’s handling of a sexual harassment complaint.
But under repeated questions from reporters, the billionaire entrepreneur did question why it took three months for a Madigan political aide — and brother of an alderman — to be fired.
“It shouldn’t take that long,” Pritzker said.
Pritzker is in a precarious spot. His Democratic campaign for governor is backed by heavy-hitting state Democrats and unions, many allied with the powerful House speaker. But Pritzker has been careful not to signal public support for Madigan — which many Democratic and Republican opponents would pounce on — given Madigan’s growing unpopularity with some voters.
Madigan, too, is facing a harsh spotlight. The Southwest Side Democrat helped to pass legislation targeting sexual harassment within state government in early November, nearly the same time he received a letter from a woman claiming she was sexually harassed within Madigan’s own 13th Ward operation.
The “Blame Madigan” chorus is popular in this year’s election, and it’s being sung on both sides of the Republican gubernatorial primary, and by Democratic candidates Chris Kennedy, state Sen. Daniel Biss and Madison County Schools Supt. Bob Daiber.
Madigan on Monday announced the firing of Kevin Quinn, the brother of 13th Ward Ald. Marty Quinn.
The following day, Alaina Hampton stood before cameras to tell her side of the story, detailing dozens of unwanted text messages — and of her fear of coming forward to Ald. Quinn, her political mentor.
A lawyer for Madigan conducted a three-month long investigation, which led to Kevin Quinn’s firing. But Hampton questioned the timing, and why he was allowed to remain an employee: “It would take all of 20 minutes to know that that was sexual harassment,” she said.
Hampton on Tuesday tweeted that she had received an “outpouring” of support after her public comments — but no calls from the speaker’s office: “I appreciate the outpouring support from numerous elected officials I have worked with and politicos I know in Chicago. Zero people associated with the Speaker have reached out to support me today. #TimesUpIL,” Hampton tweeted.
Hampton helped to run state Rep. Juliana Stratton’s legislative race in 2016. And Stratton is now Pritzker’s running mate.
Following Gov. Bruce Rauner’s budget address on Wednesday, Pritzker first sidestepped questions about whether Madigan did enough to deal with sexual harassment within his own organization. He urged everyone to stand up for Hampton and for women who are the subject of sexual harassment — a problem he called pervasive. He said there should be independent investigations to make sure those who are responsible are held accountable.
“Did Mike Madigan do enough to protect women in his own office by leaving Kevin Quinn still in it?” Pritzker was asked again.
“Once again, I think that you have to have an investigation. It can’t be a subjective one. It has to be an independent one and I think the information that comes out of that will tell the story,” Pritzker said.
Pritzker said cases should be immediately independently investigated, “an independent investigator so we can get all the facts brought forward so you can act on the facts.”
But asked whether the speaker followed that philosophy in Hampton’s case, Pritzker signaled some disapproval.
“So far, what I know is that there were reports that were made and not enough was done early enough. That’s what I know,” Pritzker said.
Other Democratic candidates were more severe in their critique of the speaker. State Rep. Scott Drury, who is fighting a ballot legal challenge to be on the Democratic ballot for attorney general, continues to call for Madigan to step down.
“He certainly has lost the confidence of the public and he has shown a complete inability to deal with the real issue of sexual harassment, sexual abuse, sexual assault, both in and outside of the state of Illinois Capitol, at this point in time,” Drury said.
And Kennedy on Tuesday said Madigan should temporarily step down as chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party, saying he “chose to protect his machine political allies instead of the women who were abused by them” and “he no longer can lead our party.”
Madigan spokesman Steve Brown on Wednesday said Kennedy’s criticism “seems to be his theory of how to win the nomination.” The speaker in a media availability on Tuesday claimed Drury is just doing Rauner’s bidding — a claim he staunchly denies.
Brown continued that theme on Wednesday, suggesting Drury was closer to Rauner than fellow Democrats.
“It’s funny that he didn’t come into the [House Democratic] caucus when he was in the Dome yesterday,” Brown said of Drury. “He was speaking to the media instead.”