Editorial: Dan Rutherford has put his campaign for governor at risk.
On Friday, Rutherford staged a dramatic press conference in Chicago to denounce GOP rival Bruce Rauner for orchestrating unnamed “allegations” to be lodged against the first term treasurer by one of his employees, which allegedly included a demand for $300,000 to make the allegations go “away.”
“Christine Svenson is an attorney making demands on behalf of the accuser and is directly linked to my opponent Bruce Rauner,” Rutherford said. Svenson demanded payment of 300-thousand dollars for the employee to “walk away and keep it under wraps.”
Rauner’s campaign has denied Rutherford’s charges.
Since the press conference, various media outlets have been reporting over the weekend that the male employee has allegedly accused Rutherford of engaging in sexual harassment and demanding that the employee participate in political activity on government time.
The center-right Rutherford, who previously served in the Illinois House and Senate and who had been supportive of some gay rights issues, has long been dogged by rumors that he is gay, a claim which he denies.
What imperils Rutherford’s gubernatorial now are not the rumours regarding his sexuality, but both the emerging accusations of alleged sexual harassment and improper political activity in his office and, more important, his own accusations against Rauner which rest on thin circumstantial evidence.
Whiff of sexual scandal has doomed some politicians, such as Jack Ryan, the 2004 Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Illinois, while others, ex-President Bill Clinton, survived.
Given Illinois’ notorious and deserved reputation for political corruption by office holders, the charge of alleged improper political campaign activity could prove more damaging to Rutherford than sexual harassment because it plays into Rauner’s theme that “corruption” exists among Illinois’ political class.
And if Rutherford is unable to quickly substantiate his breath-taking claim that the affair is a political hatchet job guided by Rauner, beyond citing a six-month old, $3,500 legal services transaction cited on Rauner’s campaign disclosure forms, then his gubernatorial hopes are likely to perish in the coming days or weeks.
Moreover, Illinois voters are likely to be unforgiving.
The weight of alleged wrong doing and a dramatic – but unproven – counter accusation by an embattled Illinois constitutional officer could stir voter memories of the political turmoil that dominated ex-Governor Rod Blagojevich’s doomed tenure – and such memories of political chaos alone could help sink Rutherford.
Let’s hope that Rutherford, who merits the presumption of innocence, can act with all possible dispatch to settle this affair for his sake – and for that of cynical Illinois voters weary of Springfield political nightmares.
They will endure a minimum wage debate any day of the week over this.
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