November 1, 2017
State Sen. Ira Silverstein accused of sexual harassment at House hearing
ILLINOIS NEWS NETWORK
A legislative hearing about allegations of rampant sexual harassment at the state Capitol in Springfield has resulted in the first name being tied to some of the alleged harassment.
Midnight text messages and phone calls, more than 400 pages of Facebook messages, and numerous unwanted advances Ė thatís what one woman said she faced at the hands of an Illinois state senator.
Lobbyist Denise Rotheimer, an advocate against sexual harassment and sexual assault, sat down next to House Speaker Michael Madigan and Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie in a committee hearing Tuesday morning and shared the harrowing tale she says she endured at the alleged hands of State Sen. Ira Silverstein, D-Chicago.
Rotheimerís daughter is the namesake behind "Jasmineís law", which strengthens penalties for various factors of sexual assault crimes. She said that, upon Silverstein meeting her, he took chief sponsorship of a bill she was advocating for.
"I lost 20 pounds. My hair fell out," she told the committee. "I had no control over the situation."
"It dumbfounds me to think that any person wants to be told ĎYouíre intoxicating,' especially if youíre a married man," Rotheimer said.
She said that Silverstein killed a bill of hers when he came under the impression that she had a boyfriend. Rotheimer alleges that he revived it when she told him that she was single.
In a call immediately after the hearing ended, Silverstein responded to the allegations.
"I apologize if I made her feel uncomfortable but I will wait for the ethics commission's results before I say anything," he said. "I''m not going to try this in the press."
Rotheimer said she went to Sen. President John Cullertonís office with a complaint. She said she didnít get a response from his office.
Cullertonís spokesman, John Patterson responded to Rotheimer's testimony.
"The Office of the Illinois Senate President was made aware of these accusations in late November 2016," Patterson said. "Senior staff met with Senator Silverstein to let him know such allegations are taken seriously and that this would be reported to the Legislative Inspector Generalís Office, which it was."
Illinois has been without an inspector general for a number of years.
At a news conference after the hearing, Madigan said sexual harassment can't be tolerated.
"I think it's about time that the Illinois government, and Illinoisans in general, recognize that sexual harassment is not to be tolerated in Illinois government or anywhere in the state of Illinois," Madigan said.
That's why he says he pushing legislation to required sexual harassment training and punishment for government officials and staff who sexually harass others, with the ultimate goal of "eradicating this problem from our society."
When asked about the allegations against Silverstein, Madigan said it was the first time he heard them.
"It does not sound good," the speaker said. "I think it's a matter that ought to be pursued, it ought to be investigated."
Madiganís bill that would institute ethics training for lawmakers as well as others, passed through the committee unanimously.
After the hearing, state Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, D-Oswego, said there could be "hundreds more stories" of sexual harassment out there similar to Rotheimerís.
"We need to start moving in a direction that allows everybody to be considered in a professional manner and ultimately start creating a work environment that's free from harassment and treats everybody equally," Kifowit said. "I think that the crux of the issue is individuals using their authority to coerce or harass other individuals and that's just not right."