Politicians say ‘no more’ to sexual harassment in state Capitol


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An Oct. 23 open letter to the Illinois Senate and House of Representatives stated misogyny is alive and well in Springfield. 

By Savannah Eadens

Uncomfortable handshakes that linger too long, arms around the shoulder that drift while posing for photos and comments about her distracting looks are just a few acts of sexual harassment experienced during her 2016 campaign, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx told The Chronicle. 

Foxx is among hundreds of women in Illinois politics who signed an Oct. 23 open letter to the Illinois state legislature titled “Say No More.” The letter has raised awareness of the harassment endured by elected officials, lobbyists, consultants and others in politics and has inspired some state lawmakers to draft two bills requiring more sexual harassment training for state employees. 

It started Oct. 18 when a group of women in Illinois politics were emailed an article from the Los Angeles Times containing an open letter from female politicians and lobbyists about how sexual harassment was pervasive in California politics and needed to stop, said Kate Le Furgy, chief external relations officer for City Clerk Anna Valencia. Le Furgy and Valencia were instrumental in writing the letter and starting the Facebook page “Illinois Say No More,” a group launched Oct. 22 to address misogyny in Illinois politics. 

“For us, this is more about an institutional and cultural change,” Le Furgy said. “As a professional woman, [sexual harassment] is unfortunately something we have all experienced.” 

An amendment to previous legislation to require yearly sexual harassment training for lobbyists, staff and legislators was advanced by Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan Oct. 26. State Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Skokie, also introduced a senate bill with similar requirements. An Illinois House joint resolution from the same day mirrors the open letter, acknowledging some male legislators, lobbyists and staffers inappropriately used their influence when interacting with female co-workers. 

State Rep. Emanuel Chris Welch, D-Westchester, is one of the people who signed the “Say No More” letter. Although he said he has never personally witnessed sexual harassment in the Illinois capitol, he knows it happens. 

“When I got the letter from one of the original signers, I responded saying that I am not a woman, but I have a mother, wife and daughter, and I want to speak up and be heard,” Welch said. 

Currently, Illinois legislatures are required to adopt personnel policies outlining sexual harassment education and policies within their respected offices, Welch said. 

“When allegations are made, they should be taken seriously and treated properly,” Welch said. “[Madigan’s legislation] takes it a step further, and requires reporting [sexual harassment] to the inspector general.”

Increased attention to sexual harassment in Springfield comes after public sexual assault allegations against several powerful and influential individuals, including Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. 

Legislative activist Denise Rotheimer spoke up and testified Oct. 31 in front of a senate panel that State Sen. Ira Silverstein, D-Chicago, made inappropriate comments to her while the two worked together on legislation. Silverstein resigned Nov. 1 from the Senate Democratic Leadership team after the accusation.

Le Furgy said the social media #MeToo movement has given women greater security.

“By speaking up and out, we’ve realized not only we are not alone but it is not just one person’s fault,” Le Furgy said.

“It is this institution that needs to change, and we’re moving in the right direction to address this.” 

Foxx said while it is encouraging to see women come together and share their stories, it is disheartening that inappropriate behavior still happens in county and state offices. 

“My hope is that people will engage in long-term strategy and policy making and strategy and include having more women at the table, having them lead the discussions because only then will we see sustained change,” she said.