CHICAGO — A growing number of Illinois Democrats are calling for an independent investigation into longtime House Speaker Michael Madigan’s political and state operations, after a second worker in a week was dismissed for misconduct.
Several Democratic lawmakers and the top Democratic candidates for governor are among those who say they have questions about how Madigan has handled complaints of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior. In addition to serving as House speaker, Madigan is also chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois.
“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,” said state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a Chicago Democrat, in calling for the review.
Last week, Madigan dismissed a long-time political consultant after an investigation found he repeatedly sent inappropriate text messages to a female staffer. The dismissal occurred one day before the Chicago Tribune published former staffer Alaina Hampton’s account.
Hampton, who reported the harassment last year, criticized party leaders for being too slow to act.
Madigan told House Democrats in a letter Friday that he was taking steps to address the issue, including providing all staff with the names and numbers of people they could contact with any complaints.
“We haven’t done enough,” he said. “I take responsibility for that.”
Madigan also said he was retaining an independent firm to investigate harassment allegations, and he asked three female lawmakers — U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, Comptroller Susana Mendoza and state Rep. Carol Ammons — to lead a statewide discussion about the role of women in the party.
On Monday, another political operative was removed for what Madigan said in a statement was “inappropriate behavior” toward a candidate and campaign staff during the 2016 election. WMAQ-TV reported he was dismissed three days after the news station first approached Madigan’s spokesman about the allegations.
Cassidy called Tuesday for a fully independent probe, saying the investigator shouldn’t be chosen by Madigan or any other Democratic official. In a statement, Madigan said he would cooperate fully and would ask the independent counsel he retained “to assist.”
But Democratic state Sen. Melinda Bush told the Chicago Tribune, “We need a real, independent law firm, not someone that is hired by the chair of the party.”
Among the other Democrats calling for the investigation are gubernatorial candidates Chris Kennedy, J.B. Pritzker and state Sen. Daniel Biss.
Biss also called for Madigan to step down as chairman of the state party, and Kennedy said he should do so while an investigation occurs.
Also calling for Madigan’s resignation from the party was Marie Newman, a progressive who’s challenging U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski in the Democratic primary for the 3rd congressional district, and state Rep. Scott Drury, who’s running for attorney general and who has repeatedly clashed with Madigan.
Asked about the calls to step down, Madigan spokesman Steve Brown told the Tribune, “That’s not going to happen.”