What on earth was Heather Steans' husband Leo Smith doing at the Jim Madigan community fundraiser Thursday night (even though he didn't pay to get in)? It certainly wasn't a diplomatic outreach mission. The prominent donor to shamed former Governor Rod Blagojevich approached Madigan at his event at The Call last night in Andersonville Chicago while Madigan was in the midst of a slightly friendlier conversation with Jacob Meister, the openly gay candidate seeking Barack Obama's former United States Senate seat.
"I'm not here for your event! I know you think you're gonna get famous with all your BULLSHIT! But those things are about me!"
The photos speaks for itself, Smith is obviously disheveled and angry. Onlookers have noted that Smith was belligerent and out-of-sorts. He'd been drinking in a corner of the bar for an hour before he stormed up to Meister and Madigan. He had refused to pay at the door, as the rest of the attendees had done, but was allowed to stay inside of the event, despite his refusal to be respectful. Madigan and Smith's wife, incumbent Senator Heather Steans, are both competing over her Illinois 7th District Senate seat.
After an hour of stewing in a corner of the bar, he went to the bathroom and emerged ready for confrontation, while a surprised Jacob Meister looked on.
"I was in Iowa for two weeks!" He continued to confused looks, "I was in Iowa for Barack Obama! I've helped kids. I'm a progressive, and I've believed in those things. And you're attacking my wife!" reported someone from the event who described Smith as "swearing and speaking in non sequiturs," and that Smith "sat at the bar for an hour drinking and appeared disheveled."
Madigan's response to Smith's ranting was as diplomatic as possible. "If you'd ever heard me speak, you'd know I always say: Heather is a fine person and as a Democrat we share a lot of views in common. But I fundamentally disagree with her on some policy issues, and I think it's wrong how she came into office."
According to attendees, the last sentence in that statement in particular infuriated Smith. According to the witness, "Smith launched into a tirade that Madigan told people that Steans made her decision on recalling Blagojevich because of contributions. 'Those were mine and you think you're gonna besmirch us!'"
He patronizingly went on, "You've done so much for gay rights. You need to spend a little more time working. You can't even get the endorsement of the ones you worked for!" Referring to the Victory Fund-endorsed candidate's work with Lambda Legal and Equality Illinois, who have yet to endorse any candidate in the race, and are likely to support whichever candidate emerges from the Democratic primary. Lambda Legal doesn't make political endorsements.
One of Madigan's staffers, in trying to diffuse the situation told Leo, "You know a good place for this conversation? In a public debate. So please let the Senator know we'd love to see her there."
Smith continued to badger Madigan, especially on the issue of Steans' Blagojevich ties, and her refusal to support a recall while Blagojevich was still in office, ending with Leo calling Madigan a liar for repeating this fact to the press.
Before Smith stormed out of the bar angrily, Madigan said to him "Look, Suzanne Elder sent Heather and I an invitation to a debate. Why doesn't the Senator come to a debate and tell me what about that isn't true?"
Prominent Democratic fundraiser, Heather Steans--Senator for the Chicago gay-neighborhood, Andersonville, where The Call is located and the fundraiser was being held--was not in attendance at the event where her husband caused the uproar. Nevertheless, his actions will no doubt need to be explained by her campaign, which--up to this point--have not released any comment that could be located through her press website, nor through Google.
The Madigan campaign did release this press statement:
Steans' campaign, and clearly her husband, are so worried about the truth coming out that they will stop at nothing to prevent our campaign from moving forward.
- Leo and Heather personally donated more than $200,000 to former Blagojevich.
- Heather's seat was secured for her by the outgoing State Senator Carol Ronen who took a plumb appointment in the Blagojevich administration.
- Heather voted against recall until after Blagojevich left office, and now supports it.
Clearly, Leo is worried that someone will put all the pieces together.
Madigan continues to put pressure on the well-funded incumbent Senator to debate him on her financial ties to Rod Blagojevich, which she ignored. Certainly, the confrontation with her obviously intoxicated husband won't settle things. However, until Madigan's supporters can make a strong enough statement, its unlikely she will take the risk.
However, gays and lesbians in Illinois--the midwestern state next poised to make marriage equality a reality here in the United States--and even around the nation may also want to have Steans answer their questions. Why did this long time ally of the LGBT community suddenly and without much warning introduce a marriage equality bill this fall only to let it die quietly with no other cosponsors, no movement and no effort to make anything of it whatsoever?
Was the introduction of this marriage bill a sincere move on her part, or strategic campaigning after Jim Madigan announced he was running against her? Either way, the bill's introduction seems not to have helped her out with the LGBT community in Illinois all that much after her failure to promote the bill after its introduction. Meanwhile, Madigan grows in visibility within the Chicago and even national gay community.
If Madigan's progressive credentials are strong enough, he will have the opportunity to pose a formidable threat to Steans in this highly progressive portion of the Chicago neighborhoods to the north of Chicago's famous Boystown 'gayborhood.'
What could a Jim Madigan win mean to the marriage equality movement nationally? Well, everything, if all the cards are played right. Having Jim Madigan in the Senate as an openly gay counterpart to the two openly gay assembly-members in the lower house will certainly mean that a relationship recognition bill will finally get pushed. While Greg Harris has done the hard work on his lower-house version of the two relationship recognition bills in the Assembly, the effort has been unmatched in the upper house where no openly gay law makers sit.
A legislative win in Illinois may be far less susceptible to a ballot overturn because of the stricter laws on ballot initiatives in Illinois. There is a much higher number of petition signatories required at over half a million, and the ballot measure must win with over 60% of the vote, rather than 50% as in other states. This means that if Iowa's progressive neighbor Illinois is able to pass civil unions or marriage equality, it is likely to withstand the standard attempt to undermine it.
While Leo Smith's wife Senator Steans has been a fundraising friend to the community's organizations, Madigan's presence in the upper house will surely mean that our nation could gain another marriage equality state soon--right here in the heartland. Perhaps Steans' camp is showing their nervous hand here knowing that once the state and national LGBT organizations figure this out there is only a matter of time before they reconsider who they support if both of the Senate relationship recognition bills continue to sit stalled. As the incumbent in a heavily pro-gay district, this would be bad news for her.