For 26 years, Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan’s office was run by a chief of staff who used “fear” as motivation and could “make or break” careers, a massive report on harassment in state politics revealed on Tuesday.
The 201-page report by former state Inspector General Maggie Hickey found a pervasive and troubling workplace culture — while also dissecting three marquee #MeToo cases that caused big headaches for the speaker last year.
The yearlong review included more than 100 interviews and a deep-dive into retaliation claims by state Rep. Kelly Cassidy and harassment allegations against both former state Rep. Lou Lang and former chief of staff to Madigan, Tim Mapes.
And even though Madigan remains one of the most influential politicians in the state, the report treads lightly on him — merely recommending he be a bit more visible and accessible to his employees.
The report’s biggest blows are aimed squarely at Mapes — Madigan’s former right-hand man who became his chief of staff in 1991, clerk of the House in 2011, as well as the executive director of the Democratic Party of Illinois in 1998. Most of those interviewed, Hickey wrote, “agreed that Mr. Mapes commonly threatened people’s jobs or reminded them that they were dispensable.”
“The number of independently verified instances of Mr. Mapes’ derogatory behavior was overwhelming,” Hickey concluded. “Mr. Mapes had a reputation for denigrating workers and threatening their jobs.”
“People believed that Mr. Mapes attempted to motivate workers through fear and that a few other supervisors throughout the years emulated this practice,” Hickey writes. “Some people also raised the additional concern that, given Mr. Mapes’ political ties, he could make or break their careers outside of the Speaker’s Office as well.”
Hickey also wrote that the speaker’s staff felt “obligated to volunteer for political organizations ... or else suffer retaliation.”
Others told Hickey that if they got on “Mapes’ bad side, he would actively call prospective employers and discourage the employers from hiring them.”
Still, perhaps the reason he lasted for so long, Hickey wrote, “most people believed that Mr. Mapes was efficient at getting things done.”
“This appearance of efficiency was, at least in part, a product of the fear he engendered,” Hickey wrote, adding that the speaker’s staff didn’t feel comfortable talking to Mapes about concerns and “practically no one felt comfortable going to the Speaker with issues regarding Mr. Mapes.”
Hickey continues that several employees said they “continue to fear” that Mapes will return to the speaker’s office, even if not an official worker.”
Mapes was ousted just after allegations by Sherri Garrett, a longtime member of the speaker’s staff, were made public.
Mapes defended himself in a statement on Tuesday, arguing that “recent criticisms made against me do not truly appreciate the size of the responsibility of my position.”
“I had many responsibilities that I took on in order to make the Speaker’s Office more efficient and effective. If my demeanor or approach to my job did not instill trust and a healthy work environment, I apologize,” Mapes said. “I truly did my best, no matter the shortcomings that are now ascribed to me, and I always acted in good faith and for the benefit of the people of the State of Illinois.”
Garrett said in a statement that reading the report was very “difficult.”
“I truly hope that the workplace culture changes so that people doing this important work are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve,” she said.
Hickey gave credit to Madigan, however, for his office taking steps to address concerns, including the firing of two of his operatives; retaining an attorney to review allegations; creating a women’s panel and publicly releasing complaints.
Madigan once again said more needs to be done to create a safe workplace culture.
“I take responsibility for not doing enough previously to prevent issues in my office, and continue to believe that we, collectively, need to do more in the Capitol to improve our workplace culture and protect the women and men who work here who want to make a difference in the world,” Madigan said in a statement.
Regarding Cassidy’s allegations, Hickey concluded she did not find sufficient evidence to corroborate her claims of retaliation but “there was sufficient evidence” for her to have believed that people would try to defend Madigan against her public criticisms. Hickey also did not find sufficient evidence to prove Lang made unwanted advances or bullied the woman who accused him, Maryann Loncar.
In a statement, Cassidy said her goal in reporting her allegation “was to make the negative actions toward me stop, and they did.”
“Others now feel safer coming forward to share their story without fear of retaliation,” Cassidy said. “I am pleased overall and particularly that the Speaker’s office chose to share the full report with the public. It is the best path forward.”