The longtime spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan said Monday that comments the speaker made regarding two capitol reporters could be considered intimidation if the reporters "want them to be."
At news conferences and other events, Madigan, 72, has demonstrated a running routine of asking which reporter is from the Illinois Policy Institute.
In about a dozen such exchanges, Madigan's longtime spokesman Steve Brown has pointed to Illinois News Network reporter Greg Bishop. The nonprofit Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity acquired Illinois News Network in October 2017. Before that, the network had been an independent project of the Illinois Policy Institute, a free market think tank that has been critical of Madigan’s policies and leadership.
On Monday, Madigan again asked the question at the start of an impromptu news conference and Brown again pointed to Bishop.
"Right here," Brown said.
Madigan immediately pointed to another reporter and stated the apartment complex where he lives.
"And you live in Lincoln Tower," Madigan said, pointing to WCIA Channel 3 capitol bureau chief Mark Maxwell.
Bishop asked Madigan if his questions were intimidation techniques.
Smiling, Madigan responded: "Yeah, right."
Brown, speaking over Madigan, quickly shot back: "Only if you want them to be."
After the news conference ended, INN reached out to Brown to ask him what he meant by his response to Bishop’s question. Brown said he "did not understand [Bishop's] question so I was trying to understand what he was saying."
Brown didn't respond to additional questions about the exchange, including one about why Madigan named the apartment complex where one reporter lives.
Maxwell declined to comment about the exchange. Doug Finke, who heads the Illinois Legislative Correspondents Association of which Bishop and WCIA are members, couldn't immediately be reached for comment after 5 p.m. Monday.
Chris Krug, publisher of Illinois News Network and president of Franklin Center, called Madigan’s and Brown’s conduct abusive and unacceptable.
"Speaker Madigan and spokesman Steve Brown repeatedly have harassed, belittled and attempted to provoke and intimidate INN reporter Greg Bishop now for nearly two years," Krug said. "The pattern of unprovoked abuse and playground bullying is unprofessional. It's unbecoming of anyone in a position of authority, let alone one of the highest offices in Illinois.
"The tolerance for abuse of media in the statehouse is unacceptable, just as it is for any other worker in the capitol. This incident – and the pattern of relentless abuse – should be immediately referred to the inspector general's office and investigated."
This is not the first time Madigan’s conduct has been called into question.
Last week, freshman Democratic state Rep. Anne Stava-Murray said she was filing discrimination claims against Madigan after she says he sent female lawmakers to coerce her to vote for him as speaker when she said she wouldn’t during her campaign.
After the #MeToo movement erupted nationally in 2017, more than 300 women with ties to state government signed a letter demanding a change in culture that allowed rampant sexual harassment to occur under a veil of secrecy. Madigan has been House speaker for all but two years since 1983, and chairman of the state Democratic Party since 1998.
Several of his top lieutenants also have been accused of harassment and intimidation of female staffers.
Madigan’s former chief of staff Tim Mapes was fired after a state employee publicly accused him of what she said was years of sexual harassment that went unaddressed.
Last February, Madigan was forced to fire two campaign workers accused of inappropriate behavior involving subordinates that dated to 2016. One of the victims of the harassment, Alaina Hampton, claimed Madigan covered up her allegations for more than a year and only fired her harasser after she decided to take her story to the media. Hampton also said she was forced out of working campaigns for the Democratic Party because she spoke out.
Longtime Madigan lieutenant and House Deputy Majority Leader Rep. Lou Lang stepped down from his leadership position last May after a Springfield lobbyist publicly accused him of sexual harassment. The state’s interim legislative inspector general later cleared him of the charges after the accused refused to participate in the IG’s investigation, claiming it was rigged against victims. Lang resigned from the House Monday to take a lobbyist position.
Democratic state Rep. Kelly Cassidy said last year that she felt pressured to quit her job with the Cook County sheriff in retaliation for her criticism of Madigan over his handling of harassment claims within his political and legislative offices.
"The message is very clear," she said. "Speak out against the speaker and people loyal to him will come after you."
Madigan's 13th Ward organization on the Southwest Side also worked to squash the candidacy of a DePaul University freshman, only to drop the challenge after allegations of widespread fraud. The freshman, David Krupa, had filed 1,729 signatures to get on the ballot. Political workers filed 2,796 petitions of revocation of signature, according to media reports. Fewer than 200 of the petitions of revocation matched signatures that Krupa filed. Krupa's attorney has raised questions about widespread fraud.
In the meantime, Madigan created a committee more than a year ago that has been charged with changing the culture of harassment and intimidation under the dome.