At hearing on harassment bill, lobbyist accuses senator

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Allegations against a Democratic state senator — and the loopholes that currently exists when it comes to reporting sexual harassment within state government — set an explosive tone as Illinois House members advanced a bill on Tuesday to target the rampant problem.

Denise Rotheimer, a Republican lobbyist running for state representative, testified before a House committee that State Sen. Ira Silverstein, D-Chicago, used “power” and “mind games” with her as she tried to advance legislation to help crime victims pay for legal care. She told the Sun-Times on Monday that Silverstein called her late at night frequently, constantly sent Facebook messages and met her to talk about the bill in unusual places, such as Millennium Park and an ice cream parlor.

She also accused Silverstein of killing her bill when he thought she had a boyfriend. Rotheimer said she felt like she had no control. Rotheimer provided the Sun-Times with hundreds of Facebook messages on Monday, which showed the two shared constant communication for several months.

“I had like no control in the situation. He had so much power over me and the mind games he played, the tactics he played and he knew this was my heart,” Rotheimer said. “What he was able to do in invading my privacy, my space.”

She said she told Illinois Senate President John Cullerton’s office about the allegations, as well as one of her local legislators, state Sen. Melinda Bush. Cullerton’s office on Tuesday said it was made aware of the accusations in late November 2016.

“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 General’s Office and Legislative Ethics Commission, which it was,” Cullerton spokesman John Patterson said in a statement.

Reached by the Sun-Times on Tuesday, Silverstein apologized for making Rotheimer “uncomfortable” but categorically denied doing anything that would rise to the level of sexual harassment.

An Orthodox Jew, Silverstein said the behavior the lobbyist described is “not in my blood.”

“I would never have done anything like this. I’m not like this. I never, never have done anything like that. It’s not in my nature,” Silverstein said.

“We were friends, but that was about it. I was working with her on a bill. I was trying to help her. When she wanted to meet with me, we either met at a restaurant or somewhere in public. I’m always on guard with things like this.”

Silverstein recalled holding hearings on Rotheimer’s bill and holding meetings with the attorney general’s office in a failed attempt to find middle ground.

“I worked the bill as hard as I could, but she would not compromise,” he said.

Silverstein was asked whether he ever propositioned Rotheimer, threatened to put a hold on her bill or said, did or wrote anything that could be construed as sexual harassment or intimidation.

“No. Not that I know of. It’s not in my nature. It’s not in my blood. I was trying to help her. I was just trying to help her get this bill through,” he said.

Silverstein is married to Ald. Debra Silverstein (50th).

Ira Silverstein said he has “told her everything” about his dealings with Rotheimer and about the embarassing allegations that made him the first Illinois lawmaker to be publicly accused of sexual harassment in the firestorm that has followed the Hollywood sex scandal.

“Debra knows what’s going on. I don’t hide anything from her. I told her everything that’s going on — the accusations and everything,” Ira Silverstein said.

“I’ve been up-front with my wife. I told her I have not done anything to sexually harass anybody. She believes me.”

As the explosive charges were made against her husband in Springfield, Debra Silverstein was at her seat in the City Council chambers listening to testimony during budget hearings.

She did not return calls to her cell phone. Nor did she respond to a text message.

“Let the Ethics Commission decide what they want to do as opposed to trying it in the press,” Ira Silverstein said.

Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan also on Tuesday announced the creation of a task force to combat sexual harassment, led by House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie. He said while he hopes the bill will pass in the House and the Senate next week, the task force will delve into long-term goals to combat the problem.

The bill would change the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act and the Lobbyist Registration Act to specifically prohibit sexual harassment; would require every constitutional officer, legislator, lobbyist and each unit of local government to adopt a sexual harassment policy that includes prohibition of sexual harassment; would require each state Inspector General authority to review allegations and submit any founded complaints to the applicable Ethics Commission which could then fine someone up to $5,000 for a violation of the prohibition on sexual harassment. The Secretary of State’s Inspector General would investigate allegations against lobbyists. It would also require all constitutional officers, legislators, state employees and lobbyists to attend sexual harassment training and to annually submit to an ethics commission a report detailing plans for training and names of those who didn’t participate.

Madigan said complaints about sexual harassment were made to ethics officers in the past. Those complaints were taken to the the chair of the Legislative Ethics Commission, who could then take it to the full commission.

The speaker acknowledged he was surprised about the allegations against Silverstein: “I think it’s pretty serious and I think it ought to be pursued immediately.”

The speaker also acknowledged that any time a complaint was brought to him, he would turn it over to the ethics officer, who would take “appropriate action.”

“There were instances where complaints were filed with the ethics officer, people including legislators were called in and told ‘You better knock it off because we won’t tolerate it in the Office of the Speaker,” Madigan said.

But will the new legislation change a “knock it off” culture?

“You’re going to have it in statute, mandatory training. You’ll have it in the statute that the matter is subject to fine,” Madigan said.

And his advice to legislators: “Better knock it off because you’re going to get in big trouble. And you can ask a member of the Senate that question,” the speaker said.

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At hearing on harassment bill, lobbyist accuses senator

Legislative activist claims Illinois senator harassed her

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A legislative activist has testified that a Chicago state senator sexually harassed her while she worked with him on a piece of legislation.

Denise Rotheimer told the House Personnel and Pensions Committee Tuesday that Democrat Ira Silverstein said her looks were “intoxicating” and sent her unwanted messages.

Rotheimer testified in favor of Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan’s legislation requiring annual sexual harassment training for all lawmakers and lobbyists. She says she had an emotional breakdown in 2016, lost weight and her hair because of the “power” Silverstein had and the “mind games” he played.

Silverstein told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that “there were no mind games, no power struggle.” He apologized for making Rotheimer uncomfortable but says he was “just working the bill.”

Legislative activist claims Illinois senator harassed her

U.S. Rep. Gutierrez: We’ll file articles of impeachment on Trump before Thanksgiving

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U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez has been one of President Donald Trump’s harshest critics from day one.

Now he says he’s helping to spearhead the first coordinated attempt to impeach Trump.

Speaking on Tuesday morning at the City Club of Chicago, Gutierrez said he and several fellow members of the House judiciary committee intend to “file articles of impeachment against Trump before Thanksgiving.”

While the effort wouldn’t be the first attempt to impeach Trump — Texas Democrat Al Green filed articles of impeachment in early October — Gutierrez told Inc. that his group will be the first to make a coordinated effort.

“We appreciate single members putting in on their own articles of impeachment, (but) we’re going to use a lot of constitutional scholars and really make a case that the president should be impeached,” Gutierrez said.

He declined to identify the specific grounds for asking Congress to remove Trump from office, though he cited obstruction of justice and possible collusion with Russia, and said “We believe he’s unfit to be president of the United States, and we believe that he’s violated the Constitution such that he should be impeached.”

The congressman, who was critical of House minority leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer for what he said was their failure to stand up for the 800,000 immigrant children who would be protected under the Dream Act, and for what he characterized as their failure to leverage Democratic power, added that “I don’t want everyone running out of here thinking Nancy Pelosi is behind this, or that the Democratic Party is behind this, but I and a group of colleagues on the judiciary committee will file those articles of impeachment.”

The White House did not respond Tuesday.

Gutierrez, who again Tuesday severely criticized the government’s hurricane relief effort in Puerto Rico, said that much depends on special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

“I kinda like that Mueller — he’s out there doing his job,” he said. “Our democracy may depend on that one man doing his job.”

kjanssen@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @kimjnews

U.S. Rep. Gutierrez: We’ll file articles of impeachment on Trump before Thanksgiving

Illinois overhauls health insurance marketplace website

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CHICAGO (AP) — The state of Illinois has added more information to its state health insurance marketplace website ahead of the start of open enrollment Wednesday.

The new information allows consumers to compare health insurance plans for sale both on and off the public Affordable Care Act exchange. The website, available at getcovered.illinois.gov, previously hasn’t included information about all plans or the ability to enroll in them and talk to licensed brokers.

Illinois Department of Insurance Director Jennifer Hammer says the agency used part of a $1 million state appropriation to overhaul the website and its services. She says the agency is “going to utilize all the tools available” to help consumers choose the best plans and products.

This year more than 350,000 Illinoisans enrolled in health insurance coverage through the exchange. Open enrollment runs through Dec. 15.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Illinois overhauls health insurance marketplace website

Durbin: Sinclair-Tribune mega-merger is not in the interest of the American people

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CHICAGO — U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today warned that if the proposed acquisition of the Tribune Media Company (Tribune) by the Sinclair Broadcast Group (Sinclair) is approved, it would threaten diversity and localism in broadcasting, ignore the unique concerns and interests of local audiences, and harm competition. If approved, the merged Sinclair-Tribune company would own or operate 233 stations nationwide and reach 72 percent of U.S. TV households—making it the nation’s largest television broadcast company.

“Congress explicitly directed the FCC to establish limits to how many households a single broadcasting company could reach because it recognized the public benefit gained from televising a diverse range of opinions and maintaining robust competition in broadcasting. Approving the proposed merger would go directly against this intent. Therefore, I urge you to give it careful consideration,” wrote Durbin in a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

Full text of the letter is available here and below:

Dear Chairman Pai:

The proposed acquisition of the Tribune Media Company by the Sinclair Broadcast Group is not in the interest of the American people—it would threaten diversity and localism in broadcasting, ignore the unique concerns and interests of local audiences, and harm competition.

If approved, the merged Sinclair-Tribune company would own or operate 233 stations nationwide and reach 72% of U.S. TV households—making it the nation’s largest television broadcast company. Additionally, the new company would violate many long-standing Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules. Unfortunately, it seems that Commission is now going out of it is way to clear barriers to the deal by rolling back any rule that may pose a problem to it, including unnecessarily reinstating the outdated Ultra High Frequency discount, eliminating the Main Studio Rule, and ‘relaxing’ local media ownership limits.

This is on top of Sinclair’s history of exploiting loopholes to skirt existing ownership caps by remotely operating stations while still dictating the content, including mandating Sinclair-produced segments such as the Terrorism Alert Desk, which regularly conflates Islam and terrorism, and firing many of the local reporters at the stations. With the Commission’s recent actions, Sinclair no longer will even need to go through the formality of pretending to divest from local stations.

Congress explicitly directed the FCC to establish limits to how many households a single broadcasting company could reach because it recognized the public benefit gained from televising a diverse range of opinions and maintaining robust competition in broadcasting. Approving the proposed merger would go directly against this intent. Therefore, I urge you to give it careful consideration.

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Durbin: Sinclair-Tribune mega-merger is not in the interest of the American people

State Rep. Skillicorn announces support for Rep. Jeanne Ives over Rauner for governor

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Then-candidate Allen Skillicorn, running for the 66th House District spot, addresses questions during an editorial board panel on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016 at the Northwest Herald in Crystal Lake.

Then-candidate Allen Skillicorn, running for the 66th House District spot, addresses questions during an editorial board panel on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016 at the Northwest Herald in Crystal Lake.

CRYSTAL LAKE — State Rep. Allen Skillicorn announced Monday that he is backing Rep. Jeanne Ives over Gov. Bruce Rauner as the 2018 Republican gubernatorial candidate.

“Rauner has failed as a leader, both as governor and head of the Illinois Republican Party,” Skillicorn, R-East Dundee, said in a news release.

Skillicorn cited a number of reasons for his decision to support the representative seeking to displace Rauner in the upcoming primary election.

The list of complaints included a tax hike as a result of the Illinois House committing to an override of Rauner’s budget veto, taxpayer-subsidized abortions for women covered by Medicaid and state employee insurance, a “$16 billion backlog of bills,” two years without a budget and the signing of the Trust Act, which prohibits state and local police from arresting or detaining a person solely because of their immigration status.

“His revolving office door of staffers hired and fired could be used for wind power as often as it turns,” Skillicorn said.

He added that Rauner has divided the party, as Republicans were unable to find candidates for offices like treasurer or comptroller.

“If he is successful in winning the primary, Illinois Republicans will be decimated come November 2018,” Skillicorn said.

State Rep. Skillicorn announces support for Rep. Jeanne Ives over Rauner for governor

South Suburban Airport opponents urge gubernatorial candidates to ‘Shut This Airport Nightmare Down’

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Opponents of the South Suburban Airport want to know where the gubernatorial candidates stand on the proposed development.

STAND — Shut This Airport Nightmare Down — has not been active for a few years, but as the governor’s race kicks into gear, members decided to send letters last week to all candidates, urging them to sell the land the state has bought for the project and “prevent the squandering” of potentially billions of dollars more.

George Ochsenfeld, STAND president, said as the candidates begin to talk about their policies, none has mentioned the airport.

“At this time, they won’t get specific, especially on anything controversial like the airport, but we’re hoping someone will grab onto it,” he said. “I will be happily surprised if one of them has the courage to take a stand on what is best for the area and Illinois.”

In the letter to candidates, STAND outlined five guidelines for disposing of the 4,400 acres the state bought for $95 million:

•Give right of first refusal to farmers who lost their land to eminent domain.

•Make 300 acres of land available in 10-acre parcels to new farmers who wish to grow produce for farmers markets and local consumption.

•Deed 200 acres to state universities and community colleges for use as a learning resource, and encourage them to offer food production degrees and certificates, with courses in local food marketing and business courses on how to run a successful small farm.

•Deed 300 acres of the Rudis tree farm property to the Forest Preserve District of Will County for management and eventual public access.

•Return the remainder of the money from property sales to the state treasury to help alleviate the budget crisis.

“The airport is collapsing under weight of reality — it’s not market driven and Jesse Jackson Jr. is not there to make it happen,” Ochsenfeld said.

The letter also stated that “no airlines support the proposed airport,” and the state “cannot afford to build it.”

This spring, the Illinois Department of Transportation — in an effort to put the issue to rest — requested information from developers interested in building and operating the airport in a public-private partnership and received six responses, which it was going to evaluate.

But the STAND letter said potential developers will want “major incentives” and tax breaks and possibly state-backed bonds, “which means taxpayers will be on the hook if the project fails.”

Additionally, the airport would require massive surrounding infrastructure, including highways, local roads, rail, flood control, water, sewage, plus additional police, fire and other emergency services, it said.

“While the proposed airport has always been pie-in-the-sky, it has done real damage on the ground,” according to the letter.

Hundreds have lost their homes, new residents and businesses have stayed away, and state-owned land is taken off the tax rolls, all of which has resulted in a loss of tax revenue to surrounding communities, the letter stated.

“The mindset of a lot of people in politics is that any economic development is good. They don’t care what it is. They have no idea that it might be harmful,” Ochsenfeld said.

For decades, residents in the Peotone/Monee area have lived under a cloud as the state struggled to create a third airport.

Ochsenfeld said it is unlikely that farmers would want to return since their homes have been demolished, but “out of respect” they should have the first chance to reclaim their land.

“It will be interesting to see how this shakes out. Even if a minor candidate picks up on this, it will bring the issue into the public consciousness,” Ochsenfeld said.

slafferty@tribpub.com

Twitter @SusanLaff

South Suburban Airport opponents urge gubernatorial candidates to ‘Shut This Airport Nightmare Down’