News Local/State

Legislative Activist Claims Illinois Senator Harassed Her

Democratic State Senator Ira Silverstein of Chicago.

State Senator Ira Silverstein (D-Chicago). Seth Perlman/AP Photo

State Senator Ira Silverstein, a Chicago Democrat, has been accused of sexually harassing an advocate who wanted him to pass her legislation.

The accusation came during a public hearing Tuesday pervasive sexual harassment at the state capitol.

Silverstein sponsored a bill in 2016 that would compensate victims of crimes for their legal expenses.

The legislation never passed.

Denise Rotheimer advocated for that bill.

"He used it as a means, like a carrot, where he had power over me," said Rotheimer.

Rotheimer testified at a committee hearing Tuesday after what was called after an open letter was published, detailing a culture of sexual harassment at the capitol, without naming any names.

But Rotheimer called out Silverstein, saying he would comment that he liked having meetings with her because she’s pretty to look at, that he’d call her at midnight, and that he ended his support of the bill when he thought she had a boyfriend...then brought it back when he found out she didn’t have a boyfriend.

"I lost 20 pounds," said Rotheimer. "My hair fell out. I was so scared that would I have to admit myself into a hospital because I went down to like 109 pounds. I had like no control in the situation."

In response, Silverstein said, “I apologize if I made her uncomfortable, but I await the commission’s findings.”

Silverstein told the Associated Press that he was just "working the bill."

That commission he’s referring to is an investigation into the incident by the Legislative Ethics Commission.

That’s one issue that came up at Tuesday's hearing: Where should people like Rotheimer go when they have a complaint?

New legislation supported by Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan would have them go to the legislative inspector general - but that position has been vacant for a few years.

Madigan says they’re working to fill the position.

His new bill would also make lobbyists, lawmakers, and staff undergo sexual harassment training.

Madigan was asked about the message he’s hoping to send.

"Better knock it off because you’re gonna get in big trouble," said Madigan. "You can ask a member of the senate that question."

Madigan has been a member of the legislature since 1971.

He says he didn’t know sexual harassment at the capitol is as pervasive as women say it is - but he’s heard rumors.