SPRINGFIELD — Plenty has happened since victim rights advocate Denise Rotheimer unleashed her explosive allegations against state Sen. Ira Silverstein.
Silverstein has been stripped of his leadership post and urged to resign. Legislators scrambled to fill a long vacant inspector general post. New legislation was passed to define and prohibit sexual harassment for state officials, and other state employees. A new task force was created to deal with sexual harassment. And legislators voted to extend the statute of limitations on such complaints.
But one thing has not happened.
Seven days after she named Silverstein at a public hearing — and about a year after she first tried to report his behavior — Rotheimer said she still has not been contacted by anyone about her complaint.
“I want it over,” Rotheimer told the Chicago Sun-Times. “There’s no winners coming out of this. It’s like every day there’s something different.
“This is something I tried to remedy. This is something that I got silenced on and shut out.”
While Rotheimer’s public naming of Silverstein last week sent reverberations through the Capitol, should the leaders, legislators or members of the ethics commission who have hailed her for speaking out have offered words of confidence? Or an assurance her case will be heard?
Julie Porter, the newly appointed interim legislative inspector general, on Tuesday told the Sun-Times she’s still not able to view complaints; her contract is still being finalized, she said.
“I don’t yet have access to any of the information about anything that’s been filed. I’m certainly aware of press reports about her and this allegation but we have not yet finalized my contract,” Porter said.
When asked whether someone should have reached out to Rotheimer, Porter said “without someone sitting in that chair [of the legislative inspector general] it’s hard for me to see how that could happen.”
“Totally outside the inspector general, could someone else have done something? I will leave that to others to comment,” Porter said.
When asked the same question, Steve Brown, spokesman for Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, said the speaker took the “appropriate” actions in quickly calling for legislative changes. Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin’s office declined to comment on pending complaints, but said he looked forward to Porter “acting on all 27 complaints quickly.” And a spokesman for Illinois Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady said it would be “inappropriate” to comment on any cases before the commission.
But Illinois Senate President John Cullerton’s office noted the Legislative Ethics Commission should be responsible for notifying victims since the panel has the responsibility to take in complaints and follow through with victims.
“One of the problems we’ve identified is the lack of follow through in notifying victims that their complaints were received, who they can contact and where they can send additional information if they have any,” Cullerton spokesman John Patterson said in a statement. “There needs to be a clear line of notification and communication. It’s an issue that would be best handled by the ethics commission and its executive director.”
Silverstein made his first public appearance Tuesday since Rotheimer made her allegations public last week. And while he said little to reporters, others were much more vocal.
The three leading Democratic candidates for governor urged him to take a hike.
“The decision to resign is ultimately up to him, but it’s clear he has abused his position of power,” said state Sen. Daniel Biss. “I believe this behavior is unacceptable for a lawmaker and he should resign”
The Evanston Democrat said: “It is evidence of a larger culture of misogyny that needs to be addressed and we must start by holding public officials to a higher standard.”
Chris Kennedy said: “Sen. Ira Silverstein absolutely should resign. Democrats think that government should be an ally — educate our kids, take care of our disabled brothers and sisters, and care for our elderly parents.
“We’ll never get other Democrats, Independents or Republicans to believe government is an ally when we have elected officials abusing their positions of power. If he wants to do something good for the party and good for the state: resign.”
The calls by Biss, Kennedy and fellow gubernatorial hopeful J.B. Pritzker come as Silverstein is learning that he may also face challengers seeking to unseat him. The Chicago Democrat added to the tense atmosphere by approaching reporters — but essentially declining to address the explosive charges.
“I’d love to talk with you about this but my first conversation will be with the inspector general which I hope to have as soon as possible,” Silverstein told reporters in Senate chambers after he voted for both a resolution creating a Senate task force to look into sexual harassment, and a bill that would remove the statute of limitations on 27 pending cases before the Legislative Ethics Commission.
All eyes were on Silverstein as he returned to the Capitol on Tuesday for the first day of the week’s veto session. The senator was ousted from his Majority Caucus Chair post last week, a day after Rotheimer leveled her allegations against him.
Porter, a former federal prosecutor, was appointed on Saturday as the special legislative inspector of the Illinois General Assembly, as allegations of sexual harassment continue to swirl in Illinois politics.
The position has been vacant for nearly two years. Legislators rushed to fill it after days of negative publicity over Rotheimer’s allegations and officials’ failure to investigate harassment and other ethical complaints.
Last week, Rotheimer, an activist and victim rights advocate, testified before a House committee that Silverstein used “power” and “mind games” with her as she tried to advance legislation to help crime victims pay for legal care. Rotheimer said Silverstein would call her frequently at all times of the day, while also making comments about her appearance. The two also shared constant Facebook messages.
Rotheimer is running as a Republican for state representative in the far north suburban district now represented by Democrat Sam Yingling of Hainesville.
Silverstein has apologized for making Rotheimer “uncomfortable” but categorically denied doing anything that would rise to the level of sexual harassment.
Reached on Tuesday, Rotheimer urged the new legislative inspector general to move quickly to resolve her complaint, which she filed nearly a year ago.
As for Silverstein, she said he has no one to blame but himself.
“I’m not going to apologize for how things are coming out on him,” Rotheimer said. “That’s on him. That’s on the people in Springfield who decided to sweep my complaint under the rug. That’s on them, not me.”
She said she hopes the new efforts in Springfield are meaningful, and not just to “save face.”