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Rich Miller: It'll take more than Mapes leaving to change Statehouse culture

By Rich Miller
updated: 6/18/2018 6:08 PM

If you ask anyone at the Statehouse about House Speaker Michael Madigan's former chief of staff Tim Mapes, they'll all say he made the trains run on time.

Mapes made sure everything got done exactly the way he (and his boss) wanted. He mastered the complexities and dominated the workings of Illinois House operations as well as Madigan's massive political network. He worked practically nonstop, and he appeared completely loyal to Madigan.

Mapes wasn't always this powerful. After the 1998 election, several of Madigan's top people left for the private sector. Mapes had been considered an equal to those folks, but when they left he made it clear that he was above their replacements. He eventually consolidated his power until it was absolutely unquestionable. The only person he reported to was Madigan, and it was tough to get to Madigan unless you went through Mapes.

The problem has always been with how Mapes made those trains run on time. He did not generally tackle his endless daily tasks by being a friendly, kind and understanding fellow. By all accounts, Mapes is a good family man and can be an excellent friend. But business was entirely another matter. He was Madigan's trusted enforcer and he took the job seriously.

As with every human organization, people take their management cues from the top. If the top person is an arrogant, snarky, sometimes personally cruel, hard-nosed workaholic and persnickety authoritarian, then that's what everyone else in the organization will shoot for -- or else.

This approach worked spectacularly well for many years. The one thing Madigan prizes as much as loyalty is success and Mapes was fabulously successful at his job. The trains always ran on time.

But this outwardly successful culture became too toxic for our current era. Times changed, the culture didn't. Worse yet, the toxicity spread to behavior that had nothing whatsoever to do with efficiency and order.

Sherri Garrett is a $41,800-a-year career employee of the House Clerk's office. Mapes took over as House Clerk when the last one left, so he was her boss.

During a news conference, Garrett detailed numerous allegations of harassment and bullying over the years by Mapes.

Like many people, I've always shrugged off Mapes' awkward attempts at biting humor. And, perhaps like many people, I didn't imagine he was behaving that way with people like Ms. Garrett, who would be known in Statehouse parlance as a "civilian." She's just a regular person who does her job every day so she can go home to her family.

One of the most eye-opening aspects of Garrett's allegations against Mapes was that he said sexist and demeaning things either directly to her or in her presence - months after the first #MeToo revelations rocked the Illinois Statehouse last October.

To me, that was a clear indication that despite all of Speaker Madigan's vows to "change the culture," the man at the very top of Madigan's management pyramid had no intention of doing so.

"Are you going to sex training today?" Garrett heard him joke to her colleague, referring to sexual harassment training required of all employees and legislators after revelations of Statehouse harassment emerged.

If there's one thing many of us have learned in the past year (with varying levels of success), it's to leave tasteless jokes to professional comedians. Those jokes, combined with Mapes' other alleged actions, appeared to have created an unacceptable working environment for Ms. Garrett and, as she claimed as her news conference, several others.

Garrett is right out of central casting -- a decent, middle aged woman who was tired of being humiliated by a person with unlimited and unquestioned authority. Her Chicago news conference was the first time she'd been to the city in more than a decade.

Madigan was likely furious that the same nice woman who regularly brought his gavel back to his office at the end of session days was subjected to this treatment by his right-hand man. And it was the height of disloyalty to behave this way while Madigan had #MeToo problems exploding all around him.

Remaking the culture is not a done deal just because Mapes was ordered to resign. These attitudes and behaviors have been thoroughly ingrained into Madigan's entire system for 20 years, after all.

I'm not even sure if it can be done.

• Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and