Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan responded Tuesday to claims that he retaliated against a state lawmaker in his own party, less than a day after she came forward alleging that she was forced to resign from her part-time position in Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart's office after she spoke out against the powerful lawmaker.
In a letter hand-delivered to state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a Democrat who represents portions of Chicago's North Side, Madigan wrote that he has "read the media report" on her allegations and adds, "I have never taken any action to interfere with your outside employment, and I have never directed anyone else to do so."
"I have no idea why you feel that I am somehow retaliating against you as a result of your criticisms, particularly given that I agreed to your requests for an outside counsel and an independent review," his letter continued.
Madigan later called on Special Inspector General Julie Porter to investigate the allegations, saying he and his staff "will cooperate."
Cassidy was a program manager for the sheriff’s Justice Initiative for three years, working part-time on jail-related issues. She said before accepting the job, she received approval from the speaker’s attorney and has listed it on her ethics disclosures, estimating that she earned between $20,000 and $35,000 per year, depending on how much she worked.
In February, Cassidy was the lead voice calling for an independent investigation after allegations of sexual harassment first surfaced within Madigan's political staff. She was one of few state lawmakers to speak publicly, questioning the steps the longtime speaker - who also chairs the Democratic Party of Illinois - took after a firestorm erupted when a former Madigan staffer, Alaina Hampton, alleged she had been sexually harassed by key Madigan operative Kevin Quinn.
Days after she publicly called for a review of harassment policies and past responses to complaints, Cassidy said she was told by Dart’s spokeswoman Cara Smith that Madigan's chief of staff Tim Mapes had called "to confirm that I was still employed," adding, "that call from Mapes felt like a warning, it was a little chilling."
Cassidy said she had also reached out to meet with Madigan about a cannabis bill currently under consideration but did not receive a response - a deviation from the norm, she said, because traditionally when House members request a meeting with Madigan, "anyone who asks to speak to him gets in to speak to him."
Then just last week, Cassidy said state Rep. Bob Rita, a south suburban Democrat and close Madigan ally, questioned why she did not support a Dart-sponsored bill and reached out to Smith to tell her, "when I worked for a politician, when I opposed him, I expect to be fired."
"My blood ran cold at that," Cassidy said. "It was very, very clear at that point, the combination of the call in February and this action by Rep. Rita, that this job was their point of leverage to use against me."
Madigan addressed that allegation in Tuesday's letter, writing, "As for Representative Rita's bill, no one in my office had discussed this specific bill with him, so I cannot comment on his concerns about your opposition to the legislation."
"Rep. Kelly Cassidy, who worked part-time for our office and who co-chairs the committee the bill was assigned to, opposed the bill... Based on this philosophical difference, she submitted her resignation which we accepted," the sheriff's office said in a statement Monday. Rita did not respond to requests for comment.
Cassidy said she did not link Dart to the retaliation and chose to resign from her position.
"Rather than put him in the position of being dragged into this petty nonsense, I offered my resignation because I didn’t see any other way," Cassidy said.
"This is retribution, there is zero doubt in my mind," she added. "This is about me having the gall to speak out."
Madigan's letter to Cassidy was also forwarded to all House Democratic lawmakers, with a message seemingly directed at the entire caucus.
"As you know from your experience with me, I encourage differences of opinion within our House Democratic Caucus, and then work to ameliorate those differences, working towards a unified House Democratic Caucus," Madigan wrote, before ending the letter with gratitude for her "continued service" in chairing a committee and as part of the budget negotiation team.