SPRINGFIELD — The No. 3 Democrat in the Illinois House stepped down from his leadership post Thursday less than an hour after a legislative activist accused him of verbal abuse and sexual harassment.
Deputy Majority Leader Lou Lang of Skokie submitted his resignation to House Speaker Michael Madigan, but later denied the allegations against him as "absurd."
Medical-marijuana activist Maryann Loncar, 51, accused the 30-year veteran of unwanted sexual advances and intimidation while interacting with him over the past four years on legislation to allow the use of marijuana to alleviate pain and other problems with specific medical conditions. Loncar said she rebuffed multiple sexual advances.
"I was harassed, I was intimidated," she said through tears. "I was humiliated and blackballed."
Loncar was accompanied at a state Capitol news conference by another legislative activist, Denise Rotheimer, who was thrust into the #MeToo anti-sexual harassment movement in Illinois last fall when she questioned why her complaints of sexual harassment against Sen. Ira Silverstein, a Chicago Democrat, hadn't been investigated by legislative ethics process.
That revealed an embarrassing yearslong vacancy in the office of the legislative inspector general, a scramble to find a temporary one, and a call by Rotheimer and, more recently, Rep. Kelly Cassidy, who alleges retaliation by Madigan for her own outspoken stance on sexual harassment, for an overhaul in the process.
One complaint by Rotheimer and Cassidy — that the inspector general needs permission from an ethics commission of eight sitting lawmakers to investigate a complaint — is addressed in legislation lawmakers sent to Gov. Bruce Rauner on the last day of the spring session. The anti-sexual harassment package, adopted unanimously in both chambers, includes removing that requirement for commission permission.
Loncar, like Rotheimer, believes the current process is rigged against lodging complaints. Loncar said she had no intention of seeking intervention by the inspector general, although Lang, who also resigned his position as a member of the Legislative Ethics Commission, requested the inspector step in.
Loncar said most of the alleged incidents involving Lang occurred at a hotel bar near the state Capitol, a familiar post-session watering hole for lawmakers and lobbyists. Loncar said Lang once placed his hand near her buttocks and said, "Does your husband know how lucky he is to have a wife like you?" which Loncar characterized as sexual harassment. Another time, she said she received a phone call from Lang who said he would "have dinner with you if you weren't with your husband."
After the two clashed over the legislation, she said Lang retaliated against her, telling her she wasn't welcome in Springfield and at one point called her ex-husband to offer his help to "bury" Loncar. She says she is on good terms with her ex-husband, who reported the call to her.
Loncar never reported the incidents to police, saying that she didn't think anybody would believe her because of Lang's influential status in the statehouse. She said she came forward after hearing last week that an unnamed state senator was also harassed by him.
"I will no longer be a bystander in Illinois," she said. "The moral compass in Springfield is broken and it will never be repaired by these individuals (legislators). It's going to be fixed by people like us — the citizens of this state."
Lang, 68, has been a representative for 31 years. In his post as deputy majority leader he had an important role in setting House Democrats' agenda and organizing the troops under Madigan.
While he has resigned his leadership posts, he is not resigning his House seat and will seek re-election.
"From beginning to end, the allegations are absurd," Lang said in a hastily organized news conference to respond to Loncar's allegations, attended by several supporters, including four Democratic women House members and a woman lobbyist to support Lang.
Lang claimed Loncar was upset for not getting her way during negotiations over medical marijuana legislation, saying she failed in "her money-making effort to secure a dispensary license." Loncar countered that she had sought a nonprofit medical cannabis program.
"Because I refused to let the medical marijuana profiteers trump the interests of patients, I made some people mad," he said. "So be it."
Among women appearing with Lang, 23-year-veteran House Democrat Sara Feigenholtz of Chicago said it's important to "stand with women" and "take corrective action." But while she's had disagreements with Lang, she called him a guiding force when she was a young legislator.
"He very often helped me shepherd my legislation through and he's been a great mentor to me," Feigenholtz said. "I'm not an apologist for anybody in this — the process needs to work."