Senator’s sex-harassment accuser wants answers on complaint
By John O’Connor
AP Political Writer
SPRINGFIELD — The political activist who has accused an Illinois Senate Democratic leader of sexually harassing her said Thursday that she wants to know why Sen. Ira Silverstein faced no repercussions until after she went public this week.
Denise Rotheimer said Silverstein, who relinquished his leadership post and its $21,000 stipend Wednesday night, should resign the Senate seat representing Chicago that he’s held since 1999.
Rotheimer, a victims-rights advocate from Ingleside, testified Tuesday before a House Committee considering sexual-harassment training for lawmakers, staff, and lobbyists. She described how the 57-year-old Silverstein sent her inappropriate social-media messages, paid her unwanted compliments and called her late at night last year while they were working on legislation.
But she told The Associated Press Thursday that the issue has gone “beyond Silverstein.” She wants to know why her charge sat idle for nearly a year with no action, no communication, and Silverstein resigned only after she pointed a spotlight on him.
“What was so different in my complaint than in my testimony (on Tuesday) that it led to the demotion?” Rotheimer asked. “Was it because I had to go public? I made the complaint. Is it that the complaint doesn’t mean anything as long as it doesn’t go public? That’s wrong. They only take action when light is shone on the issue?”
Silverstein, who on Tuesday denied harassing Rotheimer, saying he was “working the bill” when he communicated with her, didn’t return a phone message Thursday.
John Patterson, a spokesman for John Cullerton, dismissed any notion that the Senate President was reacting to negative publicity, implying Cullerton did not suggest the resignation and saying repeatedly, “We accepted Sen. Silverstein’s resignation from leadership.”
Rotheimer became a reluctant public figure when she stepped up to testify before the House Personnel and Pensions Committee on legislation authored by House Speaker Michael Madigan. It requires annual sexual harassment training for all members of the General Assembly, their staff members and lobbyists. It would be monitored by the Legislative Inspector General.
Rotheimer said Silverstein took interest in a measure she was pushing to require free legal representation to crime victims moving through a complex criminal-court system. Rotheimer has made available more than 400 pages of printed Facebook conversation in which she points to inappropriate comments. She said Silverstein made late-night phone calls to her, called her “intoxicating” and said, “I like having meetings with you, because you’re pretty to look at.”
She complained to Cullerton’s ethics office on Nov. 30, 2016, Patterson confirmed. He said senior Cullerton aides informed Silverstein of the severity of the issue and that it would be referred.
Rotheimer also said she approached her state senator, Grayslake Democrat Melinda Bush, for help, but didn’t hear back. Bush was assured it had been referred and said Senate legal counsel advised her not to talk to Rotheimer again because of the pending investigation. Bush said she remembers calling Rotheimer anyway and leaving a message that it was under investigation but she couldn’t say more. She was troubled by the timing of Silverstein’s demotion.
“If it had been dealt with, there would have been a decision” on Silverstein, Bush said. “Now, it’s like we’ve had a judge and jury without having a real investigation.”
Patterson pointed out that Cullerton has not stopped working to hire an inspector general, a post filled by consensus of the four legislative leaders. Patterson said several have been interviewed, some declined the job.
“It’s our duty to fill that post. I take responsibility for my role in that lapse, and I apologize for it,” Cullerton said in Wednesday night’s statement.
He said an interim inspector general would be named as early as next week, when a sexual harassment training seminar for senators will be conducted in Springfield.
“These corrective actions are a first step in changing an unacceptable culture that has existed for too long,” he said.