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State Week: Unread 2012 Email Costs Ag Director His Job; Senate President Election Preview

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Brian Mackey
NPR Illinois

More fallout from the “rape in Champaign” email: Ag Director John Sullivan is out.

The email, first reported last week by Chicago public radio station WBEZ-FM, was from Mike McClain, a lobbyist and longtime friend of House Speaker Michael Madigan. In 2012 he was making an argument for Forrest Ashby, a state worker the email said was facing a disciplinary hearing. McClain praised Ashby for having “kept his mouth shut on Jones’ ghost workers, the rape in Champaign and other items.”

Ashby was apparently a constituent of then-state Sen. John Sullivan, so McClain forwarded the email to Sullivan. Last year, Pritzker appointed Sullivan director of agriculture. After the McClain email was made public by WBEZ, Pritzker’s general counsel asked Sullivan to search his email archives, and that’s when he found the message. Saying Sullivan ought to have reported the email to the authorities, Pritzker sought and received Sullivan’s resignation.

“The summer of 2012 was a stressful time for me,” Sullivan said Monday in a statement to WBEZ. “I was in the middle of a state Senate reelection campaign, as well as preparing for and undergoing cancer surgery in Baltimore, MD. I was already well aware of McClain’s efforts to keep me informed of his advocacy on behalf of Ashby, and l simply did not read the entire forwarded email.”

“Had I read the email thoroughly, my reaction would have been disgust and I would have immediately notified proper authorities. Nevertheless, the email was in my inbox and not reading the entire email led to my failure to immediately respond as I would have,” Sullivan told WBEZ.

Meanwhile, members of the Illinois Senate will gather in the Capitol Sunday to elect a new Senate president.

Sean Crawford hosts with regular panelists Charlie Wheeler and Brian Mackey, and guest Hannah Meisel of The Daily Line.

Brian Mackey formerly reported on state government and politics for NPR Illinois and a dozen other public radio stations across the state. Before that, he was A&E editor at The State Journal-Register and Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.
Hannah covers state government and politics for Capitol News Illinois. She's been dedicated to the statehouse beat since interning at NPR Illinois in 2014, with subsequent stops at WILL-AM/FM, Law360, Capitol Fax and The Daily Line before returning to NPR Illinois in 2020 and moving to CNI in 2023.
The former director of the Public Affairs Reporting (PAR) graduate program is Professor Charles N. Wheeler III, a veteran newsman who came to the University of Illinois at Springfield following a 24-year career at the Chicago Sun-Times.
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