House Speaker Michael Madigan is denying claims that he retaliated against a Democratic state lawmaker by having two close allies pressure her out of a side job she held with the Cook County Sheriff’s Office.
The move comes after state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a Democrat from Chicago, accused Madigan’s chief of staff Tim Mapes and state Rep. Bob Rita (D-Blue Island), a close Madigan ally, of talking to officials in the sheriff’s office about her job and sending subtle messages that she should be let go. Cassidy was critical of Madigan earlier this year for his handling of sexual harassment within the Democratic Party. She says Madigan is using Mapes and Rita to retaliate for her speaking out.
“This is how it works,” Cassidy said. “This is what happens. People close to (Madigan) take care of things, and that’s what’s happening here.”
In a letter to Cassidy, Madigan said: “I have never taken any action to interfere with your outside employment and I have never directed anyone else to do so. I have no idea why you feel that I am somehow retaliating against you for your criticisms.”
Madigan also sent a letter to the state’s Legislative Inspector General Julie Porter, asking her to investigate the claims made against Mapes and Rita. Cassidy says she welcomes the probe, and hopes it will cause others to come forward.
“More eyes are always better,” Cassidy said. “My goal in coming forward was honestly to make it stop. And being out in public is a protection from that. If this helps get to the bottom of it, if it helps the issues I’ve heard all day, with staff people approaching me and hugging me sometimes in tears and thanking my for speaking up because they don’t feel safe doing so, whatever gets us to that space, I’ll do.”
Cassidy resigned from her side job at the Cook County Sheriff’s Office last week. The office had been pushing a bill in the General Assembly to punish inmates who exposed themselves in front of female jail workers. Cassidy opposed the bill in her role as state legislator – something the sheriff’s office says was problematic.
“The Sheriff’s office proposed legislation (SB3104) this session designed to strengthen our response to detainees who expose themselves and engage in sexual misconduct towards staff,” said Sheriff’s Chief Policy Officer Cara Smith. “Representative Kelly Cassidy, who worked part-time for our office and who co-chairs the committee the bill was assigned to, opposed the bill and the legislative solution our office was seeking to protect the over 1,000 female staff that work in the Cook County Jail. Last Thursday she chose to submit her resignation, which we accepted.”
But Cassidy says her opposition had no impact on it. She also says she believes it was not a conflict of interest to hold both jobs.
“That’s something that we worked through quite thoroughly when I was contemplating joining the team there,” Cassidy said. “House counsel was clear that there was no conflict of interest, especially given my history of work on criminal justice reform.”
Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker’s campaign issued a statement Tuesday in support of Cassidy:
“JB believes there should be zero tolerance for harassment and retaliation of any kind and he has built a campaign and will build an administration that reflects those values. Rep. Kelly Cassidy bravely came forward with her story today, and JB believes she must be heard and that there should immediately be an independent investigation. Women should never be forced to accept sexual harassment as the price of admission to a career in politics and JB stands with women like Rep. Kelly Cassidy who are leading the charge to change that culture.”
Below, a transcript of our interview with Cassidy.
Schutz: What is your reaction to Speaker Madigan’s letter to the legislative inspector general asking for an investigation into the allegations you made against Rep. Bob Rita and Tim Mapes?
Cassidy: I haven't seen it, so I don't know what the wording is, you know. We have talked about the LIG being an imperfect answer at this point, but you know more eyes are always better.
Schutz: So would you, do you encourage an LIG investigation into this?
Cassidy: I don't know enough about how it would work for this. I don't know. As I said more eyes are always better. My goal in coming forward was honestly to make it stop, and you know being out in public is a bit of protection from that. If this helps get to the bottom of it, if it helps address the issues that I've heard all day for the last 24 hours as I walk through this building with staff people approaching me and in many cases hugging me sometimes in tears thanking me for speaking up because they don't feel safe doing so, you know whatever gets us to that space I'll do.
Schutz: Do you think by you coming forward and highlighting some of the actions that people connected with Madigan had taken, more people have stories like this and want to come forward as well?
Cassidy: Well since February I have heard from, I have lost count of how many people I have spoken to current and former employees and lobbyists who have shared very similar experiences, ya know, a whole spectrum who never felt safe coming forward, who currently worry about what it would mean to come forward. This is not a one off.
Schutz: The speaker as you know in a letter he sent to you said he never took action to interfere with your outside employment and nor did he direct anyone in his office to. What proof do you have that he or someone connected to him did?
Cassidy: So just as when Jack Hynes was caught digging up dirt on Alaina Hampton and the speaker called me to assure me that he hadn't directed those actions, I told him then I believe you. You didn't have to direct those actions. This is how it works. This is what happens. People close to you take care of things and that's what's happening here. He didn't have to direct anyone's actions.
Schutz: Going back to the beginning, what do you believe the speaker or the people connected to him are retaliating against?
Cassidy: Well the call from Tim Mapes to Cara Smith happened within a day or two of me speaking out and you know declaring the speaker's response thus far to the problems of sexual harassment and discrimination within the various entities he controls, we're inadequate. And you know to have that call come so quickly from someone so highly placed was deeply chilling and was a clear warning to me.
Schutz: And then why did you resign as opposed to perhaps letting it play out, if it was going to lead to them letting you go, why resign first?
Cassidy: Quite honestly I didn't want this to become an issue for the sheriff. I respect the work he's doing and want them to be able to do the work they're doing. If I'm a distraction – you know the fight is with me not with him – so and quite honestly, you know, you come at me there twice. I’m not going to give you a third chance.
Schutz: Should you have recused yourself on the matter of the sheriff’s sex offender registry bill given that you are working for the sheriff's office? Couldn't there be the perception here of a conflict of interest?
Cassidy: Actually that's something that we worked through quite thoroughly when I was contemplating joining the team there. House Council was clear that there was no conflict of interest. That there are um- especially given my history of work on the issues of criminal justice reform. There wasn't a problem. Um, that said, I was never gonna get an opportunity to vote on that bill. That bill was coming up against a brick wall in the house. We have a moratorium in the criminal law committee on penalty enhancements. That has been stated publicly multiple times this year on the house floor and in the house criminal committee.
Schutz: The sheriff’s office said that it certainly hurt the chances when somebody who works in the office is out there opposing it.
Cassidy: It really detracts from the real issue. Bobby Rita picked up this bill to use it as a weapon against me. He doesn't care about the sheriff. He doesn't care about the bill. This is not a subject area he does work in. And when he picked up the bill, Cara and I had a conversation about it, wondering why he had picked it up and what he was up to. Um, we now know.
Schutz: So, for the three years you were working for the sheriff, what was your job? Like what specifically was your role?
Cassidy: So I was part of the sheriff's justice institute, and it was a project that began as I was coming in. It's an initiative of Sheriff Dart’s that is awesome and pretty unique in the country, where there's a team of folks who are charged with the mission of infusing social justice into all of the work of the office. And that, you know, runs the gambit. A lot of the bond reform research came out of the work of folks that I worked with there. Um, you know, some of - many of the policy initiatives that came out of the sheriff's office came out of the cases we encountered and the research that we worked on. It could be something as simple as advocating on behalf of an individual detainee, um, or you know as complex as you know those massive bond reform studies that were released. It was really an amazing group of people.
Schutz: But could the perception be that because you have this position as state legislator that it helps you land another job like that?
Cassidy: That's now how this came to be. I - you know - I've worked with Sheriff Dart for a long time and we talked a lot, off and on about it. The reality is that we found ourselves several times over the last few years without salary, and I was a single mom at the time and needed to do something to feed my children in order to keep doing this work.
Schutz: Have you spoken to J.B. Pritzker? He sent out a statement supporting you. Has he said anything to you about all of this?
Cassidy: So we had a very brief interaction this morning, um, at the House Democratic Women's Caucus breakfast we had with him. Um, very, very brief. No substance. You know. Just a hug and a, "Hang in there," kind of interaction.
Schutz: Has the independent investigation that you called for into Madigan’s organization regarding Alaina Hampton’s complaints proceeded anywhere?
Cassidy: So I saw to some proposals. It's a relatively unique concept to try to tackle. And I shared them with some colleges and we then got into the heat of the session, so I'm hopeful there may be some momentum when we get done.
Follow Paris Schutz on Twitter: @paschutz