On Monday state House Speaker Michael Madigan announced that he had fired a veteran political aide for harassing a campaign worker via text messages.
But wait. Before we discuss this week, let’s examine what happened back in November, when a handwritten letter from that campaign worker, Alaina Hampton, arrived at Madigan’s home. The letter did not drop from a clear blue sky.
It was Month 2 of the epochal #MeToo social media movement against sexual harassment. Harvey Weinstein had been fired and other Hollywood figures were being held accountable. In Illinois, more than 200 people had signed a letter protesting the predatory behavior of some men in politics, and state Sen. Ira Silverstein, D-Chicago, faced accusations of harassment. This led Madigan, yes Madigan, to push the General Assembly to pass legislation meant to curb sexual harassment in Illinois government.
Here’s how Madigan sold his approach in a statement on Nov. 7: “(N)o person should be subjected to discrimination or harassment in the workplace, particularly here in the people’s House. … Ultimately, eliminating sexual discrimination and harassment will require entire cultures to change.”
Pretty strong condemnation of harassment. Yet at that moment, Madigan may well have received a plaintive letter from Hampton, mailed Nov. 1, informing him that Kevin Quinn, her supervisor in Madigan’s 13th Ward political organization, had harassed her for months.
What did Madigan do with that letter? He sat on it.
Well, technically he dispatched an attorney to meet on Nov. 15 with Hampton. The attorney, Heather Wier Vaught, listened to her story, was given printouts of the harassing text messages, and told Hampton she’d be in touch. Then wasn’t. Hampton said she reached out again to the Madigan camp in January and also got nowhere. Meanwhile, Quinn was still working for Madigan’s political operation.
That all changed this week. On Sunday evening, Hampton spoke to a Tribune reporter about her experience. On Monday, before the story was published, Madigan announced that he had fired Quinn. In a statement, Madigan said Wier Vaught had investigated and determined that Quinn had engaged in inappropriate conduct. Madigan did not identify Hampton by name, instead referring to her as “courageous.”
Excerpts from those text exchanges between a campaign aide trying to build a career and her supervisor, who had other things on his mind:
Him: “You are smoking hot.” “I will not brag or flaunt. But I am the best dude you will meet.” “I like you very much in so many ways. I think about you all the time.” “So you do not find me attractive?”
Her: “I think we should maintain a professional relationship.” “I need you to stop. I have dedicated a lot of time in this election cycle. … I need to be able to do my work without you contacting me like this. I’m not interested. I just want to do my work.” “I do not see you in that way.”
You’re probably gasping at the impropriety. Madigan should have gasped, too, the moment he heard about those texts and reflected on his own anti-harassment legislation. Instead, he slow-walked the process of dealing with Quinn, leaving Hampton to feel professionally and personally defenseless. The speaker’s approach made clear he valued his 20-year relationship with Quinn above taking responsible action. As Hampton told reporters Tuesday: “It doesn’t take three months to read those text messages and know that that behavior was inappropriate.”
Hampton left the organization in April rather than continue working with Kevin Quinn. In November she wrote to Madigan: “I only needed to tell you because it has been very painful to experience alone.”
Alaina Hampton isn’t alone. She’s one of countless professional women to experience mistreatment. After being harassed out of her job, Hampton summoned the courage to report it to the boss — who in this case was one of the most powerful political figures in Illinois, a man who fast-tracked legislation supposedly meant to shut down a culture of creepiness in Illinois government.
Madigan made a commitment to end harassment and protect women. His resolve was tested almost immediately. He failed.