Dan Proft: Good morning, Dan and Amy. Sexual harrassment culture up in Springfield, that's the allegation by a growing number of voices, some of whom have come forward to be named, and to name names. Well one in particular, her name is Denise Rotheimer. She's a victims' rights advocate, who is lobbying for legislation in Springfield because her daughter was the victim of sexual abuse. Her 11-year old daughter was a victim of sexual abuse. So she got involved to push legislation for families who have suffered similar victimization, whose kids have. And that put her in contact with state Senator Ira Silverstein.
John Kass: But Ira told her that she was intoxicating.
Kass: And he said things like, quote, "I like having meetings with you, because you're pretty to look at," while she was pushing a bill for victims in Springfield.
Proft: Well, Ms. Rotheimer had the courage to name the name, and describe exactly what happened. She also had a voice mail message which she played for the legislative committee to which she testified about this that seemed to corroborate her story. Here's some of what she had to say.
Denise Rotheimer (from tape): When I dealt with...Silverstein...I ended up 6 weeks in a crisis. I lost 20 pounds, my hair fell out, and I was so scared that I would have to admit myself into a hospital, because I went down to like 109 pounds.
Rotheimer (interview, different from first clip): He would have meetings with me because he liked to look at me, he thought I was pretty, he would tell me I'm intoxicating, I'm intimidating, that I look like a movie star, always pointing out how I look. He's a married man.
Proft: Mmhmm. His wife is Chicago Alderman...50th Ward. He stepped down from his leadership post within the Senate Democrat Caucus this week, but not his seat. And now of course, John, you have both...the leadership of both parties rushing to look like they're taking something seriously, that they up until this point had not taken seriously. Clearly, because they didn't even bother the two parties to get together to appoint a Legislative Inspector General...
Kass: Wait, who is the, who runs the...who runs the Senate?
Proft: John Cullerton.
Kass: And he is the "Mini-Me" of who?
Proft: Umm...well I mean, they're ALL "Mini-Me's".
Kass: He's the "Mini-Me" of ONE guy.
Proft: Mike Madigan?
Kass: The one on the toadstool...looking at his pot of gold.
Kass: And Mikey has a daughter, right?
Proft: Lisa Madigan, she's the Attorney General.
Kass: She's...oh! What is that? Because I keep hearing her talking about, you know, protecting women, and women's righ...right?
Kass: So, what happened? Am I missing something, now?
Proft: Oh, no no! She's gotten into the act too, of "looking serious".
Proft: Yeah. She said that there should be an Inspector General appointed, who is an attorney with extensive experience as a prosecutor, or with experience investigating allegations of sexual harrassment. The General Assembly didn't fill the Legislative Inspector General position. So, Ms. Rotheimer's complaint went to the Inspector General's office in November of 2016, and wasn't acted upon, because there is NO Legislative Inspector General. State Senator Karen McConnaughay, Republican from Kane County, found out this week that there are 27 other complaints against members of the General Assembly that also haven't been acted upon. Because the two...the legislative leaders of both parties haven't filled the post. So it sounds to me like one of those "non-aggression pacts", John, where "We've got bad actors, you've got bad actors, how about we just brush it all under the rug?"
Kass: Wait a minute, now. The Legislative Ethics Commission...I'm reading the Tribune now, okay? A group of lawmakers appointed by legislative leaders, is in charge of putting the Inspector General in, who would look into such a thing, the Legislative Inspector General. That commission is headed by Terry Link, Democrat of Waukegan, or as I like to say, "Democrat...Jimmy DeLeo, how ya doin'?" So...anybody called Terry? Hey Terry?
Proft: So...you may want to consider this, Illinois families, and persons concerned about women being treated improperly, maybe men too, we've certainly seen that in Hollywood.
Kass: *under breath* Kevin Spacey...
Proft: When you watch all of the moralizing and the faux-indignation eminating from the same people who have been...at MINIMUM asleep at the switch, at MAXIMUM complicit in enabling and covering up bad behavior by their caucus-mates. For more on this topic, pleased to be joined by Denise Rotheimer. Denise, thank you for joining us, appreciate it.
Rotheimer (calling in live): Thank you, thank you for having me.
Proft: So the legislation...I guess the best thing to do is just in brief describe the legislation you were advancing, and then your interactions with Silverstein and what you tried to do about interactions that made you uncomfortable.
Rotheimer: In late 2014, after the Crime Victims Rights Amendment was passed, with the leadership of Attorney General Lisa Madigan, I immediately sought this legislative action because she prohibited crime victims from being appointed attorneys specifically in our Illinois constitution, which is egregious because, you know, moms or dads whose children have been raped and murdered and don't have money, we do have a right, we had a right for since the time my daughter was raped and we went through the courts in 2002, 2003, to hire an attorney, but at our expense. For those who don't have the financial means, Lisa Madigan put into the Constitution that they cannot be appointed an attorney. So, I'm the one who gets the calls, and I was trying to remedy this injustice by coming up with a plan or proposal to afford crime victims with legal representation at no cost OR additional cost to taxpayers, by using existing funds from the Crime Victim Compensation Act. Because each victim is entitled or eligible to up to $27,000 to reiumburse out-of-pocket expenses related to the criminal offense.
Proft: So this brought you to Ira Silverstein.
Rotheimer: Yeah. Initially I had been working with Senator Pamela Althoff, I never knew Ira, before I went to Springfield in '015 to oppose again the legislation that Lisa Madigan was pushing, the enabling legislation to that Constitutional amendment. And he called me immediately, saying that...you know, he commended my efforts, for my work with crime victims, and he was very disappointed to learn all the things I had to say in oppsosition to that bill, which was the truth that was HORRIBLE legislation. And he wanted to help. So I said, "Well, you can reach out to Pamela Althoff because she's been working with me on this, and when she files the bill, you can be a co-sponsor." The next thing I knew, HE was the sponsor of the legislation, and that's what triggered that relationship.
Proft: And so..
Kass: What'd he do?
Proft: Yeah, that's the, that...right. (a few seconds of silence) Denise?
Proft: So then Ira Silverstein engaged you, and then what did he do? We've heard some of your testimony, but just in brief give us a sense of your interactions with him, particularly when you...per what you've already said about what he said to you sort of indicated that made you uncomfortable, that it was inappropriate, and the like.
Rotheimer: Well, first of all, I'd like to...and one of the reasons I'm glad to be talking about this is to just provide some education. I've been reading some of the articles and some of the comments by some of the people who have opinions. And I really think it's important that people understand the nature of this abuse. It starts out insidiously. It's not just in your face, a full on attack. Well, in some cases, it may be. But he was very delicate in the way he used tactics to lure me into this...what ended up evolving into an obsessive fantasy he ultimately had. He initially Facebook messaged me, I had just started doing the Facebook messaging because my daughter...she resides in England, so that was one form of our communication. And then, it became more social. And so, I was having a difficult time, because I had worked on a few other pieces of legislation, I'd been in the legislative arena since '03, when I first worked on that first law. I've never had that kind of contact or communication especially one with a married man.
Proft: What was the communication like?
Rotheimer: Well, like was said...he kept setting up these meetings and wanting to meet in person, and said that I'm pretty to look at. And you know it was like, well you're married, and we're actually meeting in your office which is next door to your wife's, you shouldn't be telling me that I'm pretty to look at, you know I was thinking in the back of my mind. And then when we were in his office this one day, he told me about how when Obama was a state senator, his aide actually helped Silverstein in a situation, because there was some mention he got a letter from some woman who said she wanted to do all these sexual things to him. And Silverstein was told by Obama's aide not to go, it's a trap, they're putting a joke on you and all this and that. And I just couldn't understand why was he telling me this? You know, here I'm trying to talk about the parents who are calling me, the stories, the significance of why we need to get this legislation, you know, moving forward, get it into the bill for it...you know...
Proft: And so ultimately when you push back against those comments, what happened to the legislation? Did Silverstein take punitive action because you didn't accede to his advances?
Rotheimer: No it was...when he thought in April of '015 that I had a boyfriend, which I didn't realize that's what he had thought, there's a lobbyist that I came in contact with who was a friend of mine, that also knows Silverstein well. And I guess, while the conversation went, you know, Silverstein told me that I should just get consolidation with my boyfriend. And I said "What do you mean, my boyfriend? I don't have a boyfriend." "Oh, well that's not what Teddy told me." And I'm like, well, I knew who he was talking about, so I said no, that's not my boyfriend, that's been a friend of mine for over 20 years. And so, when he realized that he was not my boyfriend, he brought my bills back to life. Because what he would do is stick it in reassignment, where it would just end up dying and going nowhere, because he didn't like hearing about it.
Kass: Did he ever try to put his hands on you, or ask you out, or do anything?
Rotheimer: No, see, if it had ever gotten to that point, I would have had some type of remedy through criminal action. I met with my state attorney in April also that month, because that's the month I went into that crisis. And that's why I say, he knew how to...do things at a certain level, I guess, testing me out but know that I was not going to reciprocate.
Proft: So he used the legislation that you were advocating for as a way to kind of keep you...beholden is too strong a word, but yeah accessible. And if he thought you were pulling away he manipulated the legislation so that it wouldn't move, and when he thought you were back in place, so to speak, then the legislation would move, that kind of yo-yoing with you.
Rotheimer: And then THREATEN the legislation. "I'm the SPONSOR of this bill!", you know that kind of a thing. And so, it was just very...it's not something ANYONE should go through, really the point that I would like to make. What I was put through is not something ANYONE should have to go through. It was just like a complete and total invasion of my life. I was with friends when he would message me on Facebook, and I would look at them and say "Look what this guy is doing! Look at how often he is contacting me. He doesn't stop." And I had a friend of mine who told me that he wanted to, you know, be more with me? And I was like "Oh my gosh, thank you!" to myself, this guy...there's a possibility that he wants to...if I was willing, that just put me over the edge. Because like I said, he's a married man. And I tried to keep it as innocent as I could even though there really wasn't anything innocent about it. But it could have gotten worse...I was being told that he wanted more.
Proft: Sorry to interrupt, do you think the special counsel should be appointed, as some have now suggested to investigate complaints like yours since there has been no Legislative Inspector General for years, so complaints like yours have languished unacted upon for years?
Rotheimer: Well you know, when I filed this complaint I had no idea that number one, there was nothing in the body as exact that prohibited sexual harrassment. When I became aware of this bill and read the bill I thought "Oh my gosh, it's 2017, you mean we're just NOW putting into law that sexual harrassment is prohibited, 'shall be prohibited'?" And then number two, I did not know that there was no one in that position, the Legislative Inspector position. And now I'm finding out that because there's this time period, like a statute of limitations, that my complaint was filed at the end of November last year, so my year is going to come up at the end of this month, and if at the end of this month they don't have a Legislative Inspector General appointed, my complaint could just expire.
Proft: Just disappear, yeah.
Rotheimer: I may not get my hearing, I may not be able to present all my evidence, which is really what I want done. I just need people to know what all happened.
Proft: Well, I think they're starting to know now, and I think you coming forward is probably going to lead others to do the same and change the culture down there, at least in part. So, Denise Rotheimer, Victims' Rights Advocate, thank you so much for joining us and sharing your story, appreciate it.
Rotheimer: Thank you.