February 23, 2018: Another Sick Veteran And Another Fired Aide
It’s less than a month away from primary day. This week, two stories in particular have continued to roil state and local politics:
- The Rauner administration reported a fourth new case of Legionnaires’ disease this year at a state-run veterans’ home in Quincy. The waterborne illness has already claimed the lives of 13 veterans and sickened dozens more since July 2015. Gov. Bruce Rauner has been against moving residents out of the facility, but he might be changing his tune. We catch you up on what’s become an especially politicized issue and the continuing fallout.
- Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan has fired another longtime political operative over allegations of misconduct. Last week, Madigan removed a different top aide after accusations of sexual harassment. Questions remain about why Madigan waited so long to remove both individuals, but many Democrats are remaining silent. We take a look at how candidates and officials are reacting to the news.
WBEZ’s politics team broke all of that down during our weekly Illinois Elections 2018 podcast. You can subscribe to the podcast here to make sure you get it delivered every week. Below are highlights.
“Moving the veterans is an option that we’ve evaluated in the past. We will be evaluating it again now and at all times. We are evaluating every possible opportunity. Whatever we do, we need to be very thoughtful and very careful about it. We don’t want to increase the risk of damage to their health.”
— Rauner on the Illinois veterans’ home in Quincy, Illinois
Political reporter Dave McKinney: This has unfolded entirely on his watch. And the latest cases are happening in the midst of his re-election campaign and after he stayed a week at the veterans’ home in Quincy back in January. He’s already regarded as one of the nation’s most vulnerable Republican incumbents. And here’s the deal: Being perceived as not doing enough to keep elderly residents in the state’s care from dying, that’s a brutal campaign commercial that writes itself and has the potential to move votes. Here’s how Rauner’s Republican challenger Jeanne Ives, the state representative from DuPage County, went after him this week:
“Thirteen dead and people keep getting sick, and the governor who says he’s not in charge is living down to that description. There’s nothing left to say.”
Host Melba Lara: At this point, this issue has become so politicized. What do you think it means for the veterans’ home itself? Are the politics getting in the way of a real fix here?
McKinney: Bigger than the politics of all this is the fact that lives are at risk. There’s widespread interest in the legislature to do something, but Rauner needs to show people exactly what his plan is. He might also need to acknowledge a mistake or two in the past. But Illinois’ two U.S. senators, Democrats Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, they’ve pledged to round up federal money to help here. But like everybody else, they’re waiting on the governor to say, “Should we rebuild in Quincy or should we simply pull out more old piping?”
Political reporter Claudia Morell: Keep in mind: Madigan is the most powerful Democrat in the state. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker, and Durbin deflected this week on the issue of whether Madigan should step down as chair of the Democratic party.
“We’ll talk about that later. I’m here to talk about education.”
“Look, I’ve said that the investigation needs to proceed, and anybody that’s a perpetrator, anybody that hid anything, anybody that’s responsible here needs to be held accountable.”
“I don’t have all the details of all the things that have been said about what happened in his office or in his campaign at this point to make any other decision.”
Lara: Madigan continues to defend his handling of these situations. He has no challengers in the upcoming election. Dave, what exactly is at stake for him here? Do you see him stepping down as party chairman or even as house speaker?
McKinney: Honestly, until one of those Democrats starts complaining, I would not expect Madigan to move an inch. Unless there’s new sexual harassment claims targeting Madigan specifically, I don’t see much chance of him stepping down as the longest serving house speaker in American history or as state party chairman. The only voices right now encouraging that come from people who don’t really have his political backing.
Morell: And Friday, Alderman Pat O’Connor, the second most senior member of the city council, kind of gave the biggest defense of Madigan so far. He took a utilitarian approach.
“If the Allies had pulled Eisenhower out of his position when the troops were landing on Normandy, you would take the head of those forces and throw those forces into disarray. If you look at the state party and feel that it’s important that we elect individuals that the party has backed, then you wouldn’t take your leadership out when you’re about to have the election.”
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) came to town this week to endorse Jesus "Chuy" Garcia for Illinois’ 4th Congressional District. Sanders told the crowd this while endorsing Garcia:
“The establishment of Chicago knows that you are here and they are getting nervous.”
Morell: That comment is kind of interesting given that the guy Chuy Garcia could replace, Congressman Luis Gutierrez, essentially cleared the field for him. He announced his retirement and endorsed Garcia on the same day, all a week before the filing deadline to get on the ballot. If that’s not establishment politics, I don’t know what is.
McKinney: Also, both state Sen. Daniel Biss and Chris Kennedy could have benefitted from a few nice words from Sanders. They’re both chasing J.B. Pritzker in the Democratic party primary for governor. They’re looking for creative ways to compete with his big political bank account. But they didn’t get a peep from Sanders, and it doesn’t look like they will.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire conversation.