Editorial | Another one bites the dust?

Editorial | Another one bites the dust?

The General Assembly has been rocked again by another ... well, whatever it is.

Last time, it was state Sen. Ira Silverstein. This time, it's state Rep. Lou Lang.

Both veteran legislators have been accused of inappropriate conduct involving women pushing legislation in Springfield.

Silverstein's political career is over, thanks to his defeat in the March Democratic Party primary. Lang's career has also taken a big hit.

While calling for an investigation into his own conduct, Lang, D-Skokie, has already resigned from House Speaker Michael Madigan's leadership team, the Legislative Ethics Commission and the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules. He said his decision to step down from those posts was necessary to "avoid distraction from the agenda of the House Democratic Caucus."

That may be partly true. But in stepping down, Lang also avoids the inevitable calls for his scalp.

Lang took those steps almost immediately after citizen lobbyist Maryann Loncar made an emotional news-conference appearance where she described a series of offensive interactions with Lang that she characterized as both emotional abuse and sexual harassment.

While characterizing her comments as "absurd," Lang declined to discuss his interactions with Loncar.

He described her as a self-promoter looking to win a licence to open a medical-marijuana dispensary in Plainfield.

Lang said Loncar "apparently failed at her money-making effort to secure a dispensary license" and blames him for it.

"Because I refused to let the medical-marijuana profiteers trump the interests of patients, I made some people mad. So be it," he said.

The issue now goes to Inspector General Julie Porter, and it's an open question as to what she'll find.

That's why it was unfortunate that a group of Lang's female supporters, including legislators, joined him at the news conference to attest to his unfailing virtue.

They all acknowledged they knew nothing of the controversy. Yet all attested to Lang's outstanding character, their comments ranging from expressing a willingness to keep an open mind as the investigation proceeds to predictions that he'll be vindicated.

But it may well be that the Lang/Loncar relationship is more complicated than either Lang's defenders or Lang and Loncar are willing to acknowledge.

That was the case when Porter investigated the sexual-harassment charges made by Denise Rotheimer against Silverstein, D-Chicago.

She alleged that he repeatedly sexually harassed her and that she was forever fending off his awkward advances because of her lack of interest in him.

Silverstein denied any impropriety, portraying himself as a soft-hearted legislator who had gone out of his way to help Rotheimer pass a bill.

Ultimately, Porter concluded that Silverstein did not sexually harass Rotheimer. Instead, she concluded that he engaged in conduct unbecoming of a legislator.

Included in the lengthy and persuasive report that Porter prepared were extended Facebook conversations in which Silverstein and Rotheimer engaged in mutual flirtation. Rotheimer may well have found Silverstein's romantic interest in her to be utterly repulsive, but she did nothing to discourage it in their Facebook conversations. Indeed, she encouraged it.

So it may well be the case that Lang will find himself in similar straits.

At the same time, Loncar doesn't come across as the most credible person ever to appear before a group of reporters. Her position that everyone should believe her just because she wants them to is far from persuasive.

It remains to be seen what sort of headache this will be for Madigan.

This is the third time one of his close associates has been implicated in sexual-harassment allegations that he claims to take seriously and promises to address. So far, he's floated above all the hand-wringing, remaining in firm control of the House Democratic caucus and the state Democratic Party.

Madigan's desire to keep that control probably contributed to Lang's decision to step down as the speaker's right-hand man. If Lang can survive this, he'll probably be brought back to his position of influence in the Madigan camp.

For now, however, Lang's on his own, playing a difficult game of he-said, she-said in a political atmosphere that demands the woman be believed.

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