CHICAGO (CBS) — A political activist has accused Illinois State Sen. Ira Silverstein (D-Chicago) of sexually harassing her while the two were working on legislation to help crime victims last year.
During a House committe hearing about sexual harassment by lawmakers, lobbyists, and staffers in Springfield, Mothers on a Mission to Stop Violence founder Denise Rotheimer detailed a pattern of harassment by Silverstein, accusing him of invading her privacy.
“He would Facebook me at midnight, call me at midnight,” she said. “You have no idea the torment.”
A Republican now running for state representative, Rotheimer helped author a 2011 law to increase penalties for violent sex offenders. She said she was working with Silverstein to pass legislation to help crime victims get free legal representation during ongoing criminal cases, when the senator killed the bill because he thought she had a boyfriend.
“Once I explained to him I don’t have a boyfriend, my bill came back alive,” Rotheimer said.
Rotheimer said she felt like she “had no control in the situation” because of the senator’s power to move or block her legislation. She said she asked her local state’s attorney to take her place in writing the bill, because she couldn’t take Silverstein’s behavior anymore.
“He had so much power over me, and the mind games he played, the tactics he played, and he knew this is my heart,” she said.
Rotheimer claimed Silverstein would tell her things like, “You look like a movie star. I like having meetings with you, because you’re pretty to look at.”
“It dumbfounds me to think that any person thinks a woman wants to be told she’s intoxicating, especially if you’re a married man,” Rotheimer added. “It’s so unfortunate that we are used for whatever is going on.”
She said Silverstein’s comments and phone calls took a physical toll: “I ended up six weeks in a crisis. I lost 20 pounds. My hair fell out. I was so scared that I would have to admit myself into a hospital, because I went down to like 109 pounds,” she said.
Rotheimer said she filed a complaint with Senate President John Cullerton’s office.
“I want him to answer for it, and to know that it is wrong, it is unconscionable, and I for one do not tolerate it,” she said.
Cullerton’s office said they received the complaint in November 2016, and referred the matter to the General Assembly’s Legislative Inspector General’s office and Legislative Ethics Commission. The Legislative Inspector General position has been vacant for years.
In a telephone interview with CBS 2’s Roseanne Tellez, Sen. Silverstein denied he did anything inappropriate.
“I apologize if I made her uncomfortable but I will let the commission do its job. I don’t want to try this in the press,” he said.
The House committee passed legislation that includes requirements for sexual harassment training and defines circumstances that trigger investigations.