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Harassment allegations roil Illinois politics

Harassment allegations roil Illinois politics
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Illinois's most powerful politician is on the defensive after firing one of his top political advisers over complaints the aide sexually harassed a young woman for months.

The scandal is offering a window into how the still-evolving #MeToo movement is tearing through state legislatures across the country.

Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan (D) fired the aide, Kevin Quinn, on Monday, after Democratic consultant Alaina Hampton said she faced months of harassment while working for Madigan's political operation.

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In text messages Hampton turned over to the Chicago Tribune, sent between September and December 2016, Quinn repeatedly asked Hampton to drinks, even after she asked him to stop. Quinn complimented Hampton's appearance, asked whether she had a boyfriend and asked why she did not find him attractive.

"I need you to stop. I have dedicated a lot of time to this election cycle and I will continue to do so, but I need to be able to do my work without you contacting me like this," Hampton wrote in October 2016, a month before Election Day. "I'm not interested. I just want to do my work."

A month later, Quinn asked Hampton out again, then asked whether she found him attractive.

Quinn is the brother of Marty Quinn, a Chicago alderman who represents the district in which Madigan lives and another senior member of Madigan's political circle. Hampton told Marty Quinn about his brother's behavior about a year ago, she said in a complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Monday.

Quinn had worked for Madigan for almost 20 years, Madigan said in a statement released by his office.

Hampton left Madigan's organization last April. In the filing with the EEOC, she said she believed she faced retaliation for refusing Quinn's advances. She sent a letter to Madigan's Chicago home in November, detailing the harassment.

Despite the letter, Madigan did not fire Quinn until Monday, after Hampton detailed her experiences and showed the text messages to a Chicago Tribune reporter. Madigan said Monday he had assigned his former chief counsel, Heather Wier Vaught, to investigate Hampton's claims after receiving Hampton's letter in November.

Madigan called Hampton a "courageous woman" for coming forward. But Hampton said the months it took to fire Quinn, despite the text messages she detailed to Madigan and Wier Vaught, showed evidence of a cover-up.

"It doesn't take three months to read those text messages and know that that behavior was inappropriate," Hampton told reporters at a news conference Tuesday.

Hampton's lawyer said the retaliation against his client continued into this week. On Thursday, the lawyer sent a cease-and-desist letter to a Madigan ally, and copies to Madigan's political organization and the state Democratic Party, accusing him of trying to find "dirt" on his client. The lawyer said the Madigan ally had contacted several of Hampton's male friends in search of compromising information.

The Madigan ally, Jack Hynes, denied the claims, as did a Madigan spokesman.

Separately, Quinn was arrested last week for violating a protective order involving his former wife, just days before Madigan fired him.

One Democratic state representative called on Madigan to resign over the case. In a defensive press conference this week, Madigan referred questions to Wier Vaught and insisted he would keep his position — both as Speaker of the state House, where he has served for all but two of the last 35 years, and as chairman of the state Democratic Party, a position he has held for nearly 20 years.

The scandal has roiled Springfield, where legislators are rushing to wrap up work before next month's primary elections. Those primaries are fraught because Madigan is increasingly becoming a political issue in districts where young outsiders are running against his machine-style politics, and him in particular. 

In recent years, a growing number of state legislators have won election after casting themselves as outsiders, though they have not mounted a serious challenge to Madigan's leadership.

Still, it is difficult to overstate Madigan's power. Even his chief rival, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R), has said Madigan is effectively in charge of state government.

Now, Madigan's allies have circled the wagons, defending the Speaker and questioning Hampton's motives in the process. Some staffers and lobbyists believe that the backlash could cause other women with #MeToo stories to hold back, months after one powerful state senator was stripped of his committee assignments for alleged harassment.

The Hill has reported stories from several women working in and around Springfield, who described a pervasive culture of harassment in and around the capitol. One source said Friday the fallout from the case meant she no longer knew whom to trust, or whether to trust anyone.

That backlash represents perhaps the greatest threat to the #MeToo movement, which has so far claimed the careers of about a dozen state legislators and seen several members of Congress accused of harassment, assault or inappropriate behavior.

Women who were once afraid to come forward began speaking out following allegations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein; now, some wonder whether anything has really changed.