November 15, 2017



“My first public comment will be to the IG (Inspector General),” said embattled State Senator Ira Silverstein (D-8), whose 20-year career is hanging by a thread following allegations of sexual harassment by a Springfield lobbyist over a 17-month period during 2015 to 2016.

The proof submitted by the accuser at an October hearing in Springfield was a 444-page compendium of Facebook messages between them, at all hours of the day, none of which were overtly sexual or salacious.

Since Silverstein is on the upcoming March 20 ballot for re-nomination in the Democratic primary, Silverstein’s predicament is absolutely toxic, and portends his political demise. He was already stripped by his senate colleagues of his post as Democratic caucus majority whip. The three most prominent Democratic candidates for governor have demanded that he resign. Two primary opponents have emerged. One local Democratic official, who chose to remain nameless at this time, said that Democrats must have “zero tolerance” for behavior like Silverstein’s, saying that “the perception of wrongdoing, his poor judgment, and his abuse of position” make Silverstein an unsatisfactory candidate for the Democrats to put forward.

Silverstein has been accused, but there is no way he is going to be exonerated and rehabilitated before next March, if ever. In the brave new world of political correctness, Silverstein is deemed guilty until he proves his innocence.

Sexual harassment is defined as (1) any word or deed, which (2) is of a sexual nature or can be construed as such, which (3) either creates a “hostile work environment” and/or is deemed to be “offensive,” which may be unwanted but persists because the doer has more “power” in the workplace. It is an act, not a crime. There is no due process, no court, no judge or jury, and no legally-binding finding of guilt or innocence. It is simply an opinion, in this case made by an as-yet installed legislative Inspector General.

Especially unfortunate for Silverstein is that former federal prosecutor Julie Porter has been appointed recently as the special legislative inspector general of the Illinois General Assembly. There has not been an IG for the past 2 years, where there are 27 pending complaints for ethics violations against various state senators and representatives, including his accuser’s, which was filed in November of 2016.

The legislative IG’s job is to investigate ethics complaints against any of the 177 legislators, and make a finding, which is entirely subjective. There is evidence gathering, interviews, perhaps formal depositions, but no public hearings. Then the findings go the legislative chamber of the accused, which by vote imposes discipline that ranges from censure to expulsion. If the accused resigns at any time, all proceedings are moot.

To be sure, the complaint of Denise Rotheimer, Silverstein’s accuser and a lobbyist for victim rights legislation, has been in the system for a while, and presumably there has been some investigatory work by the IG’s staff. But what is its status? In warehousing terms, there are such freight-delivery acronyms as FIFO, which is First In/First Out, and LIFO, which is Last In/First Out. Where, among the 27 pending cases, is Rotheimer’s complaint? For Silverstein, the operative acronym is HIVO, which is Headlines In/Voted Out. By the time the IG does what it’s supposed to do, and renders a finding, it may be 2020.

I have known Silverstein for more than 30 years, dating back to the 1980s, when we were both young and hungry lawyers, and sole practitioners, and he was trying to build a political career in the West Rogers Park 50th Ward. He is now the ward’s Democratic committeeman, and his wife Debra Silverstein is the alderman. I would see him regularly on the 11th and 18th floors of the Daley Center, where we were handling probate, eviction, housing and contract matters. In 1988, he ran for state representative against Lou Lang, and got a respectable 48.8 percent in the primary. Silverstein was then and still is now a serious, almost dour, kind of guy. No kidding around, no joking, no ribaldry. He’s not the kind of guy one invites to a night of drinking. Even after winning his senate seat in 1998, after upsetting the slated Randy Barnette in the primary by 844 votes, he maintained his caseload as before. “Remember your roots,” he once told me. Silverstein is an Orthodox Jew, a family man, and rigorously observes the Sabbath. He has not succumbed to the temptation to be a “rainmaker,” which means scooping up legal business from lobbyists and their corporations, and then having junior associates do the lucrative work, a common practice among lawyer-legislators.

Yet, intentionally or not, Silverstein has succumbed to the “Culture of Springfield,” which one labor lobbyist described to me as resembling a fraternity house, with everybody — meaning the male legislators — being a BMOC, an acronym for Big-Man-On-Campus. “They’re 3-and-a- half hours away from Chicago,” he said. “They have nothing to do all day,” since all legislative matters are controlled by Mike Madigan and John Cullerton. They may have a committee meeting, but mostly spend hours on their state-paid iPhone. “They are besieged by obsequious lobbyists, who shower them with free food, drinks and monetary contributions. After four o’clock, they all head for the bars, because there’s nothing else to do in Springfield.” After the legislature’s first few days, or when there is no important vote, the media reporters are gone, he said, “and there is no oversight, nobody watching.”

Barnette, a lobbyist for Chicago’s City Colleges system, concurs, noting that Springfield is a cloistered world, and that legislators develop a multitude of personal relationships — some of which, and this is my opinion, may not necessarily be platonic.

It’s not clear whether the IG will conclude that the SilversteinRotheimer texting marathon was sexual harassment. Silverstein is one of 59 senators, of which 30 are needed to pass any bill, so there’s no “power.” And the accuser responded to the senator’s Facebook messages with alacrity and regularity, never telling him to desist. She even hired him to be her dad’s attorney.

Nevertheless, Silverstein, said Barnette, has become the “poster boy” for alleged sexual harassment in Springfield. He’s the first legislator accused, he’s the first one to get headlines, and he’ll be the first one under the bus. And, what’s worse, he’s a Democrat, so all his party colleagues are putting distance between them and him.

Unfortunately for Silverstein, he has no bunker to rebuff the assault, no political base to come to his rescue. The 8th District contains 40 precincts in Silverstein’s 50th Ward, including the large Orthodox Jewish community around Devon Avenue, east of McCormick stretching into east Lincolnwood, plus 47 precincts in the 39th, 40th and other wards, plus 73 precincts in Niles and Maine townships, which include Lincolnwood and most of Skokie. Jewish voters are at least 25 percent of the electorate. Silverstein has been on the ballot 12 times since 1998, six each in the primary and election, but has only had one tough race, the 1998 primary. “I doubt that he (Silverstein) has even 30 percent name recognition” in the district, said Barnette.

In addition, since the 8th District is so lopsidedly Democratic, and since Silverstein is a party committeeman with deep ties into the Jewish community, nobody has dared challenge him in a primary. That produced massive complacency. By getting his wife elected 50th Ward alderman in 2011, after years of squabbling with Bernard Stone, Silverstein became the unchallenged boss of his ward. Silverstein never works precincts, either in the 50th Ward or elsewhere, rarely sends out legislative newsletters or campaign flyers, and has not defined himself by associating himself with any specific issue. He’s just there.

Silverstein’s predecessor, Howie Carroll, was also “just there.” Carroll was elected state senator in 1972, at age 30, after 2 years in the Illinois House of Representatives. Carroll’s father was a prominent union official with ties to Mayor Richard J. Daley. An attorney, Carroll spent his non-Springfield time rainmaking, not campaigning, and was part of the Democratic leadership. When Sid Yates’ congressional seat opened in 1998, Carroll ran for the spot, against Evanston state Representative Jan Schakowsky and J.B. Pritzker, who is now running for governor. Despite 26 years in office, Carroll finished second with 34.4 percent. Sound familiar?

His task is now to redirect voters’ focus on his record, rebut the 444 pages of texts by saying that they were not salacious, redefine himself by connecting with some issue(s), and hope the IG does not make a “finding” before March 20. Good luck. Silverstein had $74,969 on-hand as of Sept. 30. That’s not going to be enough.

Two candidates have emerged: Alison Leipsiger, legislative director for state senator Dan Biss, of Evanston, who is running for governor; and Ram Villivalem, legislative co-ordinator for SEIU Healthcare. (Note: Officeholders and unions put their political operatives on the payroll between elections, and give them fancy titles.) Neither has any name recognition, but Leipsiger can tap into Biss' political operation, just across the border in Evanston, and his donor base, and has appeal to female voters; Villivalem once worked for state Senator Dan Kotowski, who was fanatical about walking precincts. He’s already going doorto-door.

My prediction: Silverstein is not quite yet a Dead Man Walking, but he’s close to it.

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