Opinions Editor

Jim Dey is a staff writer for The News-Gazette. His email is jdey@news-gazette.com.

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A 200-page report examining the employment culture at the Illinois General Assembly revealed a climate of fear and intimidation where lower-level functionaries feared retaliation and loss of employment if they displeased Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan’s chief enforcer.

In other words, it was operating exactly as intended.

But that was before female employees and legislators complained publicly last year about the autocratic leadership — one tinged with a strong whiff of sexual harassment and condescension — of Madigan chief of staff Tim Mapes.

Suddenly, both Mapes and his leadership-through-fear management style were out, and Madigan was promising a kinder, gentler despotism over his vast political fiefdom. Part of Madigan’s mea culpa approach included directing former state inspector general Maggie Hickey to examine allegations of sexual harassment and bullying in the House chamber.

She found some, but not a lot, of sexual harassment, the casus belli for Mapes’ June 2018 ouster from his multiple positions in Madigan’s legislative and political operations. But Hickey found loads of high-handed intimidation by Mapes that is part and parcel of Madigan’s aura of unchallengeable power.

In detailing Mapes’ activities, Hickey cited a “purported culture of negative treatment that faced people who were perceived to challenge Speaker Madigan on any issue.” She said a “fear of retaliation that could arise in unforeseen and unprovable ways was a major — if not the major — concern.”

“For workers in the Speaker’s office, this fear of retaliation meant a fear of losing their jobs, not having their contracts renewed, losing access to decision-making processes, having opportunities taken away, having prospective employers receive negative calls, or losing positive references for outside employment,” Hickey wrote.

“Representatives in the Democratic Caucus, in turn, feared losing campaign contributions, having their legislation stalled or stopped or being removed from the caucus.”

Aside from the interesting details of Mapes’ reign of terror, is anyone who follows how the General Assembly operates — specifically the House — surprised by this description of life under the Diminutive Don?

When it comes to politics, Madigan, also the longtime chairman of the state Democratic Party, has made it clear that he takes no prisoners and has zero interest in participating in group hugs. Achieving political and legislative victories is what matters — if that requires having a ruthless chief of staff, so be it.

Mapes apparently was not just demanding, but full of himself. He seemed to delight in threatening people’s employment and made it clear that employees he supervised in Madigan’s office and the House clerk’s office were mere functionaries who could be easily replaced.

His brusque, sometimes insulting approach toward Democratic House members also was documented. No surprise there either. House Democrats are there to do Madigan’s bidding when he makes his wishes clear.

But Mapes also was effective as Madigan’s chief of staff, a position he has held since 1992, executive director of the Democratic Party of Illinois, a position he has held since 1998, and clerk of the Illinois House, a position he has held since 2011.

One of Madigan’s strengths, however, is his ability to adapt to new political realities. So when his longtime partner in intimidation became a liability, Madigan dropped Mapes in a heartbeat, at least for public consumption.

News reports indicate that Madigan associates — he frequently operates through cutouts — have helped Mapes get employment in his new role as a highly connected lobbyist who has the big boss man’s ear.

Mapes declined to be interviewed by Hickey. His law firm, however, issued a statement on his behalf in which Mapes, loyal soldiers that he still is, took all the blame to spare Madigan any of it.

“... any problems regarding the workplace, including personnel issues, fell on me in my role as chief of staff and clerk of the House of Representatives. Indeed, as the report goes on to say, all important decisions regarding confidential personnel matters were left to the discretion of one person, the chief of staff. That was me,” Mapes’ statement read.

Jim Dey is a staff writer for The News-Gazette. His email is jdey@news-gazette.com.