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Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018 12:08 am

Trouble brews in Democratic Party weeks before the primary

Illinois Democrats are struggling to find their balance following news that Speaker of the House Michael Madigan took three months to fire a staffer following an accusation of sexual harassment from a campaign worker.

The accusation, brought forth by Alaina Hampton and supported by inappropriate texts sent by the accused, Kevin Quinn, came in November 2017. This occurred while Madigan pushed for sexual harassment training in response to a #MeToo letter from Illinois women at the Statehouse.

On Feb. 19, Madigan released a statement regarding another sexual harassment accusation, saying, “Last week I was advised of inappropriate behavior by a volunteer toward a candidate and staff during the 2016 election. I quickly made sure the individual had no participation in any activities my committees are involved in.”

He went on to say, “I reaffirm my commitment to change the culture. I do not tolerate inappropriate behavior or abuse of any kind and remain committed to ensuring all individuals can do their work without fear of harassment, abuse or retaliation.”

The Hampton story broke a day before Governor Bruce Rauner’s Feb. 14 budget address, and was the focus of several questions following the address.

Rep. Scott Drury, D-Highwood, an attorney general candidate, said he is renewing his call for Madigan to step down.

“He certainly has lost the confidence of the public,” Drury said in a press conference, “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, outside of the Capitol.

“It’s time for colleagues – Democrat and Republican – to get together and demand that we have new leadership in the House,” Drury said.

Madigan later responded by comparing Drury to Rauner, saying, “The Rauner agenda is to remove me as the speaker … So for Drury to say that I should step aside – that’s the same thing as Rauner saying I should step aside, which I don’t plan to do.”

Drury is one of several Democrats calling for change.

In a press conference following the budget address, Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Evanston, said, “I’ve been saying that Speaker Madigan has been in power for too long and is too powerful for a very long time. I think we need to make sure there is a thorough investigation.

“But I think it’s very very important here that we don’t only make this about one person,” he continued, speaking of the accused, Quinn. “There’s an attitude in this Capitol building that when a scandal happens, fire one person and then pretend the problem is solved.”

Biss’s running mate, Rep. Litesa Wallace, D-Chicago, agreed.

“I think that we have a very systemic situation,” Wallace said. “And as I’ve often said, cutting off the head of a snake does not change the fact that there is still a snake present.”

On Feb. 19, the duo released a joint statement calling for Madigan to step down as the chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois and questioning his status as speaker.

“Time’s up for Mike Madigan and the political machine he controls,” the statement said. “After Alaina Hampton bravely came forward, Madigan had an opportunity to lead, and chose to make more backroom deals. These actions demonstrate he cannot and should not lead our party, and also cause us to seriously question his role as speaker of the House.”

Ra Joy, running mate to gubernatorial candidate Chris Kennedy, is on the same page, tweeting “Step one, elect new chairman,” in response to Madigan’s call to “develop a plan” to elevate women in the Democratic Party.

However, other Democrats are slow to turn on the Democratic leader.

Following the budget address on Feb. 14, Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, an attorney general candidate, said, “Not every case is investigated in the same timespan. I cannot speak to this specific case, myself, without having investigated the fine details of it – I don’t think any of us can.” He went on to criticize Madigan, however, for not suspending Quinn while investigating the accusations.

Gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker repeatedly said that he didn’t “know all the facts” when asked about the issue on Feb. 14, but noted that an investigation shouldn’t take three months.

Megan Swett is an editorial intern for Illinois Times through the public affairs reporting program of University of Illinois Springfield. Contact her at intern@illinoistimes.com.

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