CHICAGO (CBS) — In a district twice rocked by the Springfield sexual harassment scandal, Democrats are responding by sending a rabbi to the statehouse.
Rabbi Yehiel Kalish is married with six children; an Orthodox Jew who’s no stranger to politics.
Kalish, 43, isn’t only the first rabbi ever to serve in Springfield.
“I may be the first rabbi in any state legislature. And that’s very exciting,” he said.
His road to get there was hardly traditional. The Skokie Democrat replaces veteran lawmaker Lou Lang, who resigned after re-election to become a lobbyist. But Lang was already politically damaged by a sexual harassment allegation, even though the Legislative Inspector General later dismissed it.
What’s more, the district’s former state senator, Ira Silverstein, lost the Democratic primary last year in a landslide, after Denise Rotheimer accused him of sexual harassment. The Inspector General later ruled Silverstein acted in an unseemly manner. So, for Lang’s seat, Democrats turned to someone seen as above reproach.
“I take the responsibility very seriously,” Kalish said.
Who handed Kalish that responsibility? Two of those who’d been accused. Lou Lang, the Niles Township Committeeman; and Ira Silverstein, 50th Ward Committeman; along with 40th Ward Committeeman, Ald. Pat O’Connor.
Kalish is no stranger to politics. As a lobbyist, he dealt with Democrats and Republicans. That experience, he said, will benefit his constituents.
“I think the experience of being an advocate will help me advocate on behalf of the 16th district, this time as a representative,” Kalish said.
Meantime, Illinois State Sen. Ram Villivalam, the man who rode the sexual harassment issue to defeat Silverstein, said he was looking forward to working with Rabbi Kalish on several fronts, including the very real issue of sexual harassment.