SPRINGFIELD (Illinois News Network) — House Speaker Michael Madigan has asked the Legislative Inspector General to investigate claims from a Chicago Democrat who said she felt pressured to quit her part-time job at the Cook County Sheriff’s Office after she publicly questioned the handling of harassment complaints inside the speaker’s legislative and political operations.
State Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) was critical of Madigan’s handling of sexual harassment, retaliation and intimidation claims in his political and statehouse operations in February. She had called for “an independent investigation into this culture that appears to pervade the organizations led by … Madigan.”
“The slow and steady drip of accusations and dismissals has turned into an endless cycle of lather, rinse, repeat, highlighting the culture of harassment in the legislature and political campaigns,” Cassidy said in a statement after Madigan detailed some of the claims brought against his organizations.
Former political aide Alaina Hampton accused Madigan’s allies of covering up her internal complaints about repeated unwanted advances by her direct supervisor during the 2016 election campaign. Only after the story was set to appear in the Chicago Tribune earlier this year did Madigan fire the supervisor. Hampton has a federal case against Madigan’s operations pending in court. She also filed an Equal Employment Opportunity complaint.
Cassidy was critical of how the situation was handled back in February. She said it all came back to Madigan, who is chairman of the state’s Democratic Party in addition to being speaker of the House.
Cassidy said a call from a Madigan operative to her supervisor at the Cook County Sheriff’s Office regarding her employment status shortly after her criticism of Madigan was chilling. She said her colleague, state Rep. Bob Rita (D-Blue Island) then asked how she could oppose a bill that would help her boss.
Rita denied trying to intimidate Cassidy. He also denied saying that to Cassidy, but said “her opposition in learning that she’s working for the sheriff and this being a top legislative priority really surprised me.”
Cassidy said the two instances showed a pattern.
“What I realized was that those two events combined were very clear to me that this was the point of leverage,” she said. “This was the weapon they had to use against me for having the audacity to speak out.”
Cassidy took that weapon away by quitting her part-time job. She blamed Madigan.
“Because the message is very clear: Speak out against the speaker and people very loyal to him will come after you,” Cassidy said.
Madigan’s office declined to comment directly on Cassidy’s claims, but the speaker denied the claims in a letter to Democratic members of the House. Cassidy confirmed receiving the letter, but said she doesn’t buy it.
“It really misses the forest for the trees,” she said.
Cassidy said Madigan called her in to a meeting earlier this year and denied having anything to do with a dirt-digging operation that Hampton spoke about publicly.
“‘I 100 percent believe you,’ ” she said she told the speaker, “‘You didn’t order [it] because you didn’t have to. This is the way the operation works and I know that you believe that that one step removal is enough, but it isn’t enough anymore. You own this.’ ”
“He owns this too,” she said.
Later Tuesday, a spokesman for Madigan’s office shared a letter with reporters that Madigan sent to Julie Porter, the special legislative inspector general, which handles allegations of wrongdoing against state lawmakers.
“I am writing to ask that you investigate recent allegations of possible sexual harassment and retaliation,” Madigan wrote. “The allegations center around two events: (1) an inquiry about [Cassidy’s] outside employment made by my Chief of Staff, Tim Mapes, and (2) Representative Bob Rita’s sponsorship of legislation and his comments to her and Sheriff (Tom) Dart. Myself and my staff will cooperate with any investigation into this matter.”
Cassidy said she had been getting encouragement privately from people who feel they can’t speak out at the capitol.
“As I walk through the building today I can’t go very far before I run into a staffer or a lobbyist or someone who pulls me into a hug and whispers ‘thank you for saying what I can’t say,’ and that’s heartbreaking,” Cassidy said. “And that’s heartbreaking but I stand here as Exhibit A that they’re right to be cautious.”
Asked if Madigan should continue to serve as speaker of the House, Cassidy said that was a matter for another time.
“We’ll see what happens in January. That’s not a question for today,” Cassidy said. “For today I want to get through the rest of session and do my job … in peace and with the freedom to represent my constituents in the best way that I can.”
State Sen. Karen McConnaughay (R-St. Charles) is a member of the Legislative Ethics Commission.
“I think Cassidy did the right thing, the brave thing, to come forward to ask for an investigation, but as a member of the commission and understanding how the IG was selected, and this is no reflection on [Julie Porter’s] credential or capabilities, but for purpose of transparency and independence, it’s a lot to ask an IG to investigate the person responsible for their appointment,” McConnaughay said.
McConnaughay said the current IG is a special legislative inspector general, rather than a full-blown inspector general. That’s something that ultimately needs to be decided by the General Assembly, which has not been done in years.
She said Porter’s appointment last fall was done at the last minute.
“‘How did your name get brought forward to the commission,'” McConnaughay recalled asking Porter before Porter was appointed. “She indicated she was interviewed by the Speaker’s attorney. I think it’s a conflict, frankly, to investigate the speaker’s office when he’s the one responsible for your appointment.”
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