He’s run afoul of Democrats from President Barack Obama to House Speaker Mike Madigan, and now former state Rep. Ken Dunkin is locking horns with Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.
While the governor tried to rescind his appointment of Dunkin to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District over harassment allegations lodged against Dunkin, the controversial former lawmaker says he’s not going anywhere.
And it appears Dunkin will win the battle. The governor’s office on Thursday acknowledged Rauner doesn’t have the authority to remove him from the board.
“I’m not resigning,” Dunkin said at the board’s monthly meeting in Chicago on Thursday, while confirming he spoke with Rauner on Wednesday and was ignoring his calls to step down.
Rauner’s appointment of Dunkin was widely seen as a reward to the former Democratic lawmaker for breaking ranks with Madigan and siding with Rauner on key votes — before Democrats foiled Dunkin’s re-election bid.
On Thursday, Dunkin was welcomed to his first meeting by the board’s president, Mariyana Spyropoulous, but her introduction led to a lengthy warning about harassment allegations.
“We heard about allegations from Springfield yesterday and I believe those are deeply troubling I know, to me, and many of my colleagues,” Spyropoulos said.
She also applauded the women who have come forward while acknowledging the board has “zero tolerance for any such behavior.”
Dunkin, too, addressed the allegations at the meeting, calling them “baseless.”
“Let’s be conscious and let’s be clear on what’s hearsay and what’s fact,” Dunkin said. “I’m happy to be here and looking forward to serving.”
Rauner on Wednesday called Dunkin and asked him to resign, and sources said Dunkin told the governor he wouldn’t. The governor’s office acknowledged while they want Dunkin gone, they can’t nix his appointment.
“Under the law the governor had the responsibility to appoint someone to fill this vacancy in an elected position,” Rauner spokeswoman Rachel Bold said in a statement. “However, under the present circumstances, we do not believe the governor has the authority to remove. We have asked Ken Dunkin to resign.”
At least one candidate on the ballot for a Metropolitan Water Reclamation District seat in November was paying attention to the latest board controversy. Shundar Lin, a Republican candidate, called Dunkin’s refusal to resign “an insult to his accusers, taxpayers, and those he claims to represent.”
“It is troubling Mr. Dunkin was even considered for this position,” Lin said.
It’s just the latest controversy for Dunkin, who once brought a sleeping bag and a bar of soap to a Springfield news conference as he vowed to camp out until legislators reached a budget.
This week, Dunkin’s name surfaced in harassment allegations that led Tim Mapes, Madigan’s chief of staff, clerk of the Illinois House and executive director of the Democratic Party of Illinois, to resign from all of his posts on Wednesday.
Sherri Garrett, a longtime employee of the speaker’s office, described incidents in which she said harassment allegations were swept under the rug or brash statements were made to her.
In one instance, Garrett said Dunkin approached her and another woman and said, “I want to take both of you home and see which one will be the naughtiest.” Garrett reported the incident and was told that Mapes’ response was that it would blow over.
In announcing Mapes’ resignations on Wednesday, Madigan addressed the Dunkin allegations.
“My office was aware of the comments made by then Representative Dunkin and took action to handle the matter,” the speaker said in a statement. “That issue had been disclosed publicly earlier this year by my office along with all other known allegations of harassment. It is clear that the culture needs to change and we need to ensure all issues are dealt with quickly and appropriately.”
While running for re-election in 2016, Dunkin raked in a hefty $1.3 million windfall from a Republican-tied group. The contributions came from the Illinois Opportunity Project, co-founded by former GOP gubernatorial candidate and conservative radio host Dan Proft. In making their first contribution of $500,000 the group credited Dunkin for bucking the party line: “We hope Rep. Dunkin’s example of acting in furtherance of his constituents rather than toeing the party line established by Speaker Madigan will be followed by more of his colleagues in the House.”
Obama recorded a rare endorsement for Dunkin’s opponent, Rep. Juliana Stratton, who ultimately won the legislative race, and now is running as Democrat J.B. Pritzker’s lieutenant governor pick.
In February 2016, during a visit to the Capitol in Springfield, Obama took a shot at Dunkin. The president and former state senator said he worked with GOP senators to find common ground in Springfield, but “that doesn’t make me a sellout to my own party.”
That prompted Dunkin to stand up, clap his hands and yell “yes!” The South Side Democrat had broken ranks with his party and sided with Rauner on key votes and had been sharply critical of Madigan.
“We’ll talk later Dunkin. You just sit down,” Obama said
Democrats and a few Republicans stood up and applauded.
Republican support came Dunkin’s way after he left the Democrats one vote short on an override of the governor’s veto of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees’ no-strike bill. Dunkin also refused to side with Democrats to override Rauner’s veto of a bill to fund child care.
He was rewarded again this year when Rauner appointed Dunkin to the $70,000-a-year board post.