State Rep. Jerry Long gave his account Sept. 19 of an incident that brought about harassment allegations, admitting he touched a former co-worker's neck, but saying he doesn't believe he did anything wrong.
A spokeswoman for the House Republican Organization said Long's story doesn't match what was found in an independent investigation and that the organization has a zero tolerance policy for harassment.
On Sept. 12, the House Republican Organization asked the Streator Republican to resign, and the organization, along with the Illinois Republican Party, withdrew support of his campaign.
Other state lawmakers, including Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, and Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, who either share or have adjacent districts to Long's 76th, have asked for his resignation.
Long said he will not resign. He is opposed in the November election by Democrat Lance Yednock, of Ottawa, in a race considered a battleground between the two parties.
On the Friday before Labor Day, Aug. 31, Long said one of his staff members called him to her computer, but he can't recall what the two of them were looking at on the screen. He said the staff member was not feeling well.
"She was at the computer. I’m standing right behind, and I'm looking at it," Long told The Times Wednesday. "She leans back. She goes, 'Ah man I’m tense, I’m getting a migraine headache.' And I grabbed her neck. Not grab. I touched her neck. And I said: 'You do feel tense.' And then I said I'm going to grab my stuff and go."
Long said he then took some interns to a pizza restaurant in Ottawa. When he returned from dinner, the staff member had left. He said he had never touched the complainant before this incident.
Long didn't speak to the staff member all weekend and the co-worker didn't answer her text messages Monday or Tuesday. Long received a call later that Tuesday indicating a complaint had been made to the House Republican Organization and he was being investigated for harassment. Long said initially investigators told him they were looking into "sexual harassment."
"Once they realized the touch wasn't sexual harassment, they said it's a hostile work environment," Long said.
Long said he couldn't initially figure what the complaint was about, until he remembered about a day and a half later when his wife woke him up on her way to work.
"She walked out of the house. I laid down, and five minutes later, my mind is wandering," Long said. "I actually sat up quickly, holding my head. 'I touched her neck. I touched her neck. I touched her neck.' That’s how inconsequential it was."
Eleni Demertzis, from the office of House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, said Long's story was not the one received from the complainant.
The complainant issued a written statement last week through the House Republican Organization after Long told media he had done nothing wrong. Her name was withheld to respect a request for privacy.
“Rep. Long’s denial of his actions and behavior are troubling and disappointing.
“While there was an incident of physical harassment, the verbal abuse and abuse of power on a daily basis resulted in a hostile work environment that put anyone around him at risk.
“It is my sincere hope that Rep. Long resigns from his position and gets the help that he needs.”
Robert Milan, a former U.S. attorney for the Northern Illinois District, conducted the internal investigation, along with Andrea Gonzalez, both of Alvarez & Marsal. The investigation was a workplace investigation, not criminal. No report has been released, including to Long, who said he is requesting documentation.
"The facts brought forward by the complainant were corroborated by a witness and ultimately deemed truthful and founded by the independent investigators," Demertzis said in a statement Wednesday. "Leader Durkin and his leadership team stand by the independent investigator's report and subsequent actions rendered to Rep. Long."
The House Republican Organization said it was made aware of "Long's behavior" over Labor Day weekend.
"We immediately brought in a third party firm to investigate these allegations, and upon completion of their report on Sept. 12, a decision was made to withdraw support of Rep. Long’s campaign, restrict access to all caucus resources and recommend he step down from his position," Demertzis said in a statement last week. "The House Republican caucus and organization has a zero tolerance policy on harassment of any kind."
There have been a series of harassment allegations in Illinois politics.
Last month, state Rep. Nick Sauer, R-Lake Barrington, resigned following a report of accusations he sent nude photos of an ex-girlfriend to other men online. Both Sauer and Long were first elected to the House in 2016.
Additionally, Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan removed his chief of staff Tim Mapes after a House employee said she experienced years of harassment by Mapes, who also served as executive director of the Democratic Party of Illinois.
Democratic Sen. Ira Silverstein was cleared of sexual harassment, but was found to act in a manner "unbecoming of a legislator," according to a Chicago Tribune report.
The speaker also dismissed longtime political worker Kevin Quinn after a letter was sent accusing him of sexual harassment and Madigan parted ways with lobbyist Shaw Decremer over abusive actions during House Democratic races.
On Sept. 14, Long addressed his constituents on his Facebook page, explaining the complaint stemmed from a disagreement with a staff member regarding a robocall.
"I refused to record HRO's message and recorded my own message to the people I represent, which infuriated the (employee)," Long wrote then. "Rather than allow me the ability to speak my own mind and represent the 76th District, the HRO has used this simple disagreement as a way to pull their support."
During Wednesday's interview, Long said he made the post to demonstrate the contentious relationship he had with the House Republican Organization.
He said he and the staff member were working on robocalls the staff member had written prior to the incident in question. He said the two of them were frustrated with the GOP organization.
"She wanted me to read it, and it didn’t sound like me," Long said. "It wouldn’t roll off my tongue. So I started scratching parts of it out and rewriting other parts. And I said, 'Wow, who wrote this?' ‘I did.’ ‘Sorry, no offense, this doesn’t sound like me.’ We reorganized it. We did the robocall. We did the recording."
Long said he didn't raise his voice or slam his hand on the table during this interaction.
"My frustration has always been with the Republican party, they constantly butted heads with me on running my campaign," Long said.
On Sept. 13, Long told WCMY radio he was a "demanding boss": "It's not sexual harassment content. What it is, is because the nature of this campaign being high pressure and high-paced, and I can be demanding. It's extremely important to understand I expect a lot out of people. That's what the allegation is."
Long believes HRO wanted him out
Long believes the complaints against him stem from his contentious relationship with the House Republican Organization.
"These are trumped up charges," Long said.
He said the conflict dates back to 2014 when he lost in a close race to long-time Democratic state Rep. Frank Mautino.
"I lost that race because of them," he said of the HRO.
He said the same conflicts arose in 2016 when he defeated Rep. Andy Skoog, who was appointed to Mautino's seat after Mautino resigned to become auditor general.
"I was on my phone raising Cain with them," Long said. "We don't work well."
Between the House Republican Organization and Illinois Republican Party, Long received more than $100,000 for his campaign in 2016 and more than $1 million in 2014.
The GOP regained the 76th District after Mautino had served two decades in the House and Mautino's father had served as state rep. from 1975 to 1991. If Democrats gain nine seats, they will reclaim a supermajority in the House, making it easier to overturn gubernatorial vetoes.
The House Republican Organization was fully invested into the 2018 race and spent more than $40,000 on mail in one week alone. The Democratic party, likewise, had invested $127,787.41 into Yednock's race by the end of August.
In July, Long appeared with Gov. Bruce Rauner in Ottawa, along with Demmer, to sign a pledge for term limits.
Long shook his head when asked why the HRO would pull resources less than two months before the election in a district it covets.
"If they lose one seat, Democrats don’t gain the supermajority," Long said. "They can afford to lose one seat. In 2016, they threatened to pull money three different times. I feel they were just ready to let the seat go, because of our contentious relationship. Maybe they feel they can cut their losses on this one, and gain another seat. So they can recoup what they’re going to lose here.
"I think they figure they can get enough representatives and senators to rise up against me, call me to resign," Long said. "I'm not going anywhere. I was hired by the people to represent the people. I'm going to continue to represent the people. If they decide to vote me out, then that's up to them."