Gov. Bruce Rauner quietly appointed former Democratic state Rep. Ken Dunkin to Chicago’s Metropolitan Water Reclamation District board just last month, but now he’s calling on Dunkin to resign in light of allegations that Dunkin, years ago, made untoward comments to a state employee.
Dunkin says he’s staying put.
“I’m not resigning,” Dunkin said Thursday, speaking to reporters following a portion of his first meeting as MWRD commissioner.
The furor comes after Sherri Garrett, a member of the Illinois House Clerk’s staff, publicly levied accusations of harassment by House Speaker Michael Madigan’s longtime chief of staff Tim Mapes, who until his resignation on Thursday was arguably the most powerful unelected figure in Illinois politics.
Among them, she recounted that in 2013, Dunkin, then a state representative, approached her and another women while they were at work on the House floor. She says Dunkin said: “I want to take both of you home and see which one will be the naughtiest.”
Garrett says Mapes initially responded to the incident by brushing it off and hoping it would blow over, only addressing the situation once he was forced to do so by another member of House staff.
Dunkin on Wednesday repeatedly told reporters, “Those are 100-percent baseless accusations.”
A spokeswoman for Garrett did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
The verbal exchange may have gone largely under the radar save for Rauner’s appointment of Dunkin to the MWRD – a $70,000-per-year post that also comes with health, dental and retirement benefits as well as a downtown parking spot and a car.
In a May 18 statement, Rauner spokeswoman Rachel Bold said the governor chose Dunkin because he “has well represented his community and his constituents in the Illinois House of Representatives. On the MWRD board he can continue his commitment to public service and the taxpayers.”
Critics believe the appointment to be a form of payback – a reward for Dunkin’s breaking from Democrats in 2015 to form an allegiance with Rauner. Dunkin’s absence from the Illinois House during a vote of major importance to his party and to unions helped to kill the legislation, giving Rauner a win against labor and Madigan, his political nemesis.
Rauner allies supported Dunkin’s next run for re-election, but he was bested in the 2016 primary by now Rep. Juliana Stratton, who is the running mate of Demoratic nominee for governor J.B. Pritzker.
“We believed Ken Dunkin would continue his commitment to public service on the MWRD board. Given new information that has come to light, we have asked him to resign,” Bold said Thursday via email.
At the MWRD meeting, President Mariyana T. Spyropoulos welcomed Dunkin to the board, going on to say that while she has no history of working with him, she and other commissioners find the recent allegations “deeply troubling.”
“I applaud the women who have the strength to come forward and make those statements. I know it’s not an easy thing to do that. There is zero tolerance for any such behavior here at the MWRD. As a woman and as president of this organization, I can tell you that we do not and will not stand for any form of sexual harassment,” she said.
From his commissioner’s seat, Dunkin said he was “happy to be here” and thanked Rauner for appointing him.
“I certainly will want to adhere to your statements, but baseless accusations are just that at times. And we need to be conscious of what it is that we say, certain things that we internalize. Anyone can say anything about anybody at any given moment, especially in this political environment,” Dunkin said. “Most of us – all of us – come from a political background and we have political sponsors, so let’s be conscious and let’s be clear of what’s hearsay and what’s fact.”
Dunkin, and by extension Rauner, are far from the only officials to be caught in the #MeToo movement’s shifting winds.
Mapes is the third Madigan deputy forced to step aside amid allegations connected to harassment, launching a series of court cases and investigations and questions of whether the speaker himself will be pushed out, perhaps by Democratic lawmakers or Pritzker.
Reps. Kelly Burke, Deb Conroy and Ann Williams – all Democrats in the Illinois House – on Thursday issued a statement calling for an independent investigation into the operations of the Illinois House and the speaker’s office. They also announced the launch of a new, dynamic sexual harassment training program called “Representing Respect” with a focus on changing the culture of Illinois government and politics.
At the end of Thursday’s meeting, Dunkin brought in a DJ for a party in his new office.
An MWRD spokeswoman says no taxpayer funds were used for the celebration.
STATEMENT FROM TRIO OF HOUSE DEMOCRATIC WOMEN:
Yesterday, we heard from longtime statehouse employee Sherri Garrett about the inappropriate behavior she faced as an employee of the Illinois House – the latest in a series of allegations about harassment, retaliation and bullying behavior in and around Illinois government and politics.
The resignation of Speaker Madigan’s Chief of Staff Tim Mapes was the right decision in the wake of yesterday’s allegations, and we commend Ms. Garrett and all the others who shared their stories in an effort to bring positive change to our work environment. But the problem is much bigger than any one individual, regardless of what position they hold. Each allegation, each story shared publicly or privately, add up to one conclusion: the culture surrounding Illinois government and politics must change.
As members of the Illinois House Democratic Women’s Caucus, we recommend an independent investigation to review all operations of the House of Representatives, including the Office of the Speaker. We have a responsibility to ensure not only an impartial, fair and transparent process for the adjudication of complaints, but also to change the culture that has permitted inappropriate behavior to flourish.
Additionally, the House Democratic Women’s Caucus will launch a powerful new program, called “Representing Respect” – developed to create change and impact the workplace culture in a much different way than a typical harassment training.
• This interactive program, which was developed by law firm Seyfarth Shaw and called “Seyfarth Shaw at Work,” is results- and data-driven. It has been utilized by many Fortune 500 companies to establish core values and educate team members as to how interpersonal interactions should reflect these values. (See link, below.)
• The Illinois Legislature would be first in the country to adopt this sort of dynamic training, and the program will be tailored to reflect the realities of working in a non-traditional environment like the Capitol. We thank Asst. Majority Leader Sara Feigenholtz for leading the effort to facilitate the development of this program for our own Caucus and for spearheading efforts to move forward with this project, and Majority Leader Barbara Currie for her strong leadership of the Sexual Harassment Task Force.
• Several House members have participated in an abbreviated version of the program, and we plan to pilot the complete program later this summer with our Democratic colleagues in the House and recommend it be provided to all staff in the fall.
We are committed to working to improve our workplace environment for all women – and men - who work in and around the Capitol in any capacity. We believe we can make a real difference and hope our colleagues in all other caucuses will consider participating.
-Representatives Kelly Burke, Deb Conroy and Ann Williams
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