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*** UPDATED x2 - Sullivan comments *** John Sullivan resigns

Monday, Jan 13, 2020

* Tony Arnold and Dave McKinney at WBEZ

A top cabinet official in Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker’s administration tendered his resignation this weekend.

The departure of state Agriculture Secretary John Sullivan is apparent fallout from last week’s WBEZ report about a former lobbyist’s email that defended a state worker facing disciplinary accusations for having stayed silent about “the rape in Champaign.”

More to come.

…Adding… All-staff email from Jeremy Flynn, Chief of Staff…

Effective yesterday, Director Sullivan resigned his position leading the Illinois Department of Agriculture. Effective immediately, I will be serving as Acting Director for the Department.

The accomplishments over the last year are many and I know we will continue the mission of the Department. I appreciate everything you do to serve Illinois’ number one industry.

*** UPDATE 1 *** From the Pritzker administration…

Governor Pritzker sought and accepted Department of Agriculture Director John Sullivan’s resignation this weekend. Director Sullivan had a long and productive public service career as a State Senator, and the Governor is grateful for his willingness to serve in the administration. Director Sullivan put together an outstanding team at the Department of Agriculture, and as a result, the Department’s work thrived.

However, the Governor holds all state employees to the highest ethical standards, and the Governor requested the Director’s resignation because he is disturbed that then-Senator Sullivan became aware of the existence of the July 31, 2012 email contemporaneously, and did not handle it appropriately, including not alerting the inspector general or other authorities.

The Governor’s general counsel has shared all of the information she learned from Director Sullivan with the Office of the Executive Inspector General and offered to share this information with all law enforcement agencies looking into this situation. The administration will continue to assist in the ongoing investigation.

Sullivan is from the Quincy area and represented Mike McClain’s hometown for years.

*** UPDATE 2 *** From former Director Sullivan…

This past weekend, Governor Pritzker’s General Counsel notified me that an August 2012 email from Mike McClain to Governor Quinn’s staff referenced my name as state senator and McClain’s advocacy on behalf of my constituent, Forrest Ashby.

That information led me to conduct a review of my own personal emails from that same period of time. My search discovered a forwarded copy of McClain’s July 31, 2012 email reported by WBEZ. I shared this information with Governor Pritzker’s General Counsel.

The summer of 2012 was a stressful time for me. 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.

Bottom Line, I accept responsibility for what was truly an unintentional oversight and the subsequent inaction.

In light of these circumstances, Governor Pritzker asked for and I submitted my resignation as Director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture effective immediately.

It has been an honor to serve Illinois and the agriculture industry. I cannot say enough about the outstanding and dedicated employees at the Illinois Department of Agriculture and all they accomplished this last year.

…Adding… ILGOP…

Chairman Tim Schneider released the following statement in response to the revelation that Director of the Department of Agriculture, and former state senator, John Sullivan resigned because he knew about Mike McClain’s “rape in Champaign” email at the time and did nothing:

“If a random state legislator like John Sullivan knew about McClain’s email at the time, surely there were others who knew about it and also ‘kept their mouths shut.’ It defies belief that John Sullivan knew of the email and its contents, but Speaker Mike Madigan, a close confidant of the email’s author, knew nothing.

I get what they’re saying, but Sullivan was no “random” legislator. He was McClain’s Senator.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

58 Comments
  1. - seenthebigpicture - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 1:19 pm:

    Called that one! Lets not forget about Dr. Anderson Freeman


  2. - Former State Employee - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 1:26 pm:

    Confused. Didn’t know John Sullivan had a piece of this issue? What is going on behind the scenes.


  3. - Precinct Captain - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 1:26 pm:

    Good example by set by the Governor’s office.


  4. - Norseman - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 1:32 pm:

    The Governor’s action is speaking loudly. Keep it up.


  5. - Donnie Elgin - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 1:45 pm:

    Good move by JB, use Mr. Peabody’s Wayback machine to move focus to the year 2012.


  6. - ILPundit - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 1:47 pm:

    @What did she know:

    Given how quickly Sullivan just got the hook, I think we can safely assume that if, somehow, Anne Spillane knew something, she would be dealt with quickly?

    So rather than dropping the same comment in every thread, maybe either tell us what you know, or quit disparaging the woman?


  7. - Okay then - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 1:47 pm:

    The lesson here is that any executive branch employee that has knowledge of something politically explosive to the administration better report and reveal it. The Governor has set the standard.


  8. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 1:51 pm:

    === politically explosive===

    That’s your takeaway from all this?

    Wow. “Okay then”.


  9. - SAP - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 1:52 pm:

    I have had high opinions of both Gary Hannig and John Sullivan. It pains me to see that 2 of the good guys were part of the cover-up, or at least knew about the cover up and did not report it.


  10. - The Real Captain - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 1:55 pm:

    Sullivan has been away from State govt for a few years, prior to his appointment at AG, and Ashby didn’t leave state employment for a few more years, and McClain was doing his stuff up until this summer so lets think who else might be involved in things like this, on both sides of the aisle. Remember he was a George Ryan foot soldier before going to work for Quinn and the rest.


  11. - Howard - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 1:58 pm:

    There is no cover-up. This is and was an executive branch issue not a legislative branch issue. Apparently the Governor is holding staff to an ethical level above those he holds for himself. I am sure this won’t be the last person McClain takes down.


  12. - Rich Miller - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 2:03 pm:

    === I am sure this won’t be the last person McClain takes down===

    Yup.


  13. - theCardinal - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 2:05 pm:

    The Gov has set the standards bar, if there is a hint of something(of course we don’t know what that is yet) you will be gone. It’s to bad too, Sullivan was one of the best ILGA members I have worked around.


  14. - Middle of the Roadster - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 2:11 pm:

    Sullivan is from Rushville and was senator when Ashby was working at the facility there in question. McClain was Sullivan’s biggest “bundler” in his senate campaigns.


  15. - ugh - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 2:12 pm:

    John Sullivan wouldn’t have been on my list of anyone likely to be caught up in any of this. Wow. A whole lot of people sitting around today trying to remember if they knew and ignored any bad, terrible, disgusting or criminal behavior.


  16. - Bertrum Cates - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 2:16 pm:

    = A whole lot of people sitting around today trying to remember if they knew and ignored any bad, terrible, disgusting or criminal behavior. =

    This.


  17. - Jocko - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 2:18 pm:

    ==Sullivan was one of the best ILGA members I have worked around.==

    And Joe Paterno was the winningest coach in college football. What’s your point?


  18. - Billy Sunday - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 2:20 pm:

    Keep in mind that ‘ghost payroll” issues have not yet been addressed…

    A sad fall for a great legislator, Mr. Sullivan We hope that both Stermer and Hannig took proper action?? Time will tell.
    Good move on the governor’s part without any doubt.


  19. - Livin' la vida FOIA - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 2:20 pm:

    What ILPundit said.


  20. - Ron Burgundy - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 2:23 pm:

    Agree with ILPundit. Drive by attacks without basis are not welcome here.


  21. - Back to the Future - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 2:31 pm:

    On the same page as ILPundit.


  22. - JS Mill - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 2:36 pm:

    =Good move by JB, use Mr. Peabody’s Wayback machine to move focus to the year 2012.=

    For the first time in a long time we have a governor doing the right thing yet some of the Raunerites cannot handle an ethical governor and have to see some kind of dodge in it. I guess that is due to their training.


  23. - Glengarry - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 3:00 pm:

    The only question I have. Who else knew about this?


  24. - 47th Ward - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 3:01 pm:

    “Beat your plowshares into swords…”

    And then fall on them.


  25. - WLDS - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 3:09 pm:

    Jil Tracy and Randy Frese represented Adams County during that time period. Tracy was the State Rep before running with Kirk Dillard and Frese was Adams Circuit Clerk in 2012 who ran against Sullivan and lost. They are ILGOPers so, wouldn’t know, but would be good people to question.


  26. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 3:11 pm:

    === 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.

    Bottom Line, I accept responsibility for what was truly an unintentional oversight and the subsequent inaction.

    In light of these circumstances, Governor Pritzker asked for and I submitted my resignation as Director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture effective immediately.===

    This is taking ownership.


  27. - Because I said so.... - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 3:14 pm:

    =This is taking ownership.=

    It sure is. I wish more people at fault would do this.


  28. - Flapdoodle - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 3:16 pm:

    –And Joe Paterno was the winningest coach in college football. What’s your point?–

    Maybe that Sullivan stood tall and took responsibility, while Paterno weasled and prevaricated?

    @OW 3:11 — Exactly right


  29. - Rich Miller - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 3:20 pm:

    ===What ILPundit said===

    The commenter was placed in “time out.”


  30. - FormerILLobster - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 3:22 pm:

    Sullivan received a forwarded email… Forwarded by whom?


  31. - Just Another Anon - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 3:23 pm:

    I guess the question becomes, do you believe him? More importantly, do you believe everyone treated the email similarly. I somehow don’t think that is the case. This isn’t taking ownership, this is throwing bodies at a story and hoping that will be enough to divert it from reaching everyone that was involved.


  32. - Just Me 2 - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 3:28 pm:

    re: GOP statement - they should avoid making this issue partisan and just let the Dems implode. If they push this issue they risk rallying the liberal troops.


  33. - Robert the Bruce - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 3:29 pm:

    I don’t believe anyone would miss an emailed reference to a rape.


  34. - Boog Alou - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 3:30 pm:

    ==I guess the question becomes, do you believe him?==

    Yes.

    ==More importantly, do you believe everyone treated the email similarly.==

    No. Those are very separate questions.


  35. - Qcypundit - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 3:36 pm:

    Fischer is likely nervous at this point. That’s a big overpaid, do nothing job he’ll have to try and replace in the private sector. He’ll also have to start driving the speed limit like the rest of us peasants.


  36. - The Real Captain - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 3:37 pm:

    WLDS - Maybe as a news organization you could ask if Jill Tracy ever had interaction with Ashby while she was a Rep or Senator? Did anyone ever ask her to make a call on his behalf.


  37. - Montrose - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 3:38 pm:

    Sullivan’s statement is good if it is honest. There is a part of me that fears other info will come to light that there were multiple points of contact on this matter that makes it clear he had to know what McClain was doing even if he didn’t read that email.


  38. - Just Me 2 - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 3:43 pm:

    Sullivan will be fine, he got a nice pension boost for a year’s worth of work.


  39. - Rich Miller - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 3:46 pm:

    ===if Jill Tracy ever had interaction with Ashby===

    Yeah, ok. Whataboutism reigns supreme with you.


  40. - Cool Papa Bell - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 3:49 pm:

    Dave and Tony now clearly have one end of the string and are just slowly pulling it towards them. I expect more of these reports in the next few weeks.


  41. - Chicago Cynic - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 3:54 pm:

    “I don’t believe anyone would miss an emailed reference to a rape.”

    Absolutely right. If they had read the email. I don’t know about you but I get hundreds of emails a day and some of them get missed or skimmed or ignored. Frankly, we have no way of knowing whether Sullivan read the email or not and we’re all very cynical based on years or decades of experience. Either way, the governor demanded and he accepted absolute responsibility.


  42. - SSL - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 4:03 pm:

    This could really get ugly before it’s all over. If you received the email does that mean you read it. If it is determined the email was opened, does that mean you read it all the way through. How many people has this little time bomb waiting to explode all over them?


  43. - SAP - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 4:04 pm:

    ==This past weekend, Governor Pritzker’s General Counsel notified me that an August 2012 email from Mike McClain to Governor Quinn’s staff referenced my name as state senator and McClain’s advocacy on behalf of my constituent, Forrest Ashby.

    That information led me to conduct a review of my own personal emails from that same period of time. My search discovered a forwarded copy of McClain’s July 31, 2012 email reported by WBEZ. I shared this information with Governor Pritzker’s General Counsel. ==

    John Sullivan self-reported when he could have easily done nothing and hoped for this to blow over. I know, it was after the GC brought it to his attention, but it is a lot more ownership than most people have taken.


  44. - Mr Illinois - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 4:17 pm:

    A bit off topic, but it is weird to me the incoming and outgoing directors both seem to view ’serving the industry’ as the primary role of the agency. I would hope a progressive administration would have a slightly broader perspective


  45. - Randolph House - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 4:17 pm:

    John Sullivan is a good man. I believe him and am angry that the dastardly deeds of some have resulted in the resignation of an excellent Agriculture ambassador.


  46. - Soccermom - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 5:00 pm:

    Former IlLobster raises a good question: Who forwarded that email?


  47. - 4 percent - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 5:02 pm:

    This makes me sad because I believe that John is an honorable public servant based on my 20 years of experience. He could be political but was a straight shooter and I don’t believe would have played this game.

    Everyone should note this new high bar for Pritzker appointees and see if its applied uniformly and fairly for future indiscretions that occur or are uncovered.


  48. - Qcypundit - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 5:06 pm:

    Randolph Wasn’t McClain often referred to as “the most trusted and respected lobbyist in Springfield,” ? He and Sullivan were pretty tight. People are not always as they seem.


  49. - Occasional Quipper - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 5:14 pm:

    To those commenting about how it would be hard o miss an email referencing a rape, don’t underestimate how much dealing with something like cancer can distract a person from clear thinking. I tend to give him the benefit of the doubt on this one.


  50. - ANON - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 6:05 pm:

    JUS me 2–Sullivan was retired when he returned to state service–pension rules preclude a recalcualtion of final ending salary for annuitants returing to work–get your facts straight before you sound off.


  51. - Eire17 - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 6:06 pm:

    I like and respect John very much. I don’t pretend to know the whole story but I want to believe he is being honest. He was working hard as Director of Ag. Hate to see this.


  52. - Garth - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 6:08 pm:

    ==However, the Governor holds all state employees to the highest ethical standards, and the Governor requested the Director’s resignation because he is disturbed that then-Senator Sullivan became aware of the existence of the July 31, 2012 email contemporaneously, and did not handle it appropriately, including not alerting the inspector general or other authorities.==

    Does this mean that the email was opened (but allegedly not read)?


  53. - Anonymous - Monday, Jan 13, 20 @ 8:02 pm:

    This is a big loss for Illinois farmers.


  54. - nadia - Tuesday, Jan 14, 20 @ 12:05 am:

    Probably the best person I could think of for Director of the IL Dept of Ag is now gone due to not reporting info from an email from 7 years ago. What a loss for IL farmers and the AG community.

    Only a guess, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see an environmental activist appointed to replace Sullivan.


  55. - NoMoreMC - Tuesday, Jan 14, 20 @ 8:00 am:

    What is the chance that Dir. Callahan slides over from DNR and replaces Sullivan?


  56. - OpentoDiscussion - Tuesday, Jan 14, 20 @ 8:11 am:

    “This is a big loss for Illinois farmers.”

    Don’t see it that way. Sullivan worked hand in hand with corporate big AG to sponsor legislation that made certain farmers would have much less to say about large hog confinements being placed in their back door.

    The damage he did was huge. Senator Dave Koehler (D) has sponsored legislation that may help to mitigate some of this but it will be a tough process to undo the damage.


  57. - KB - Tuesday, Jan 14, 20 @ 4:09 pm:

    I know John Sullivan and all the work he has done for his state. The fact that an email he didn’t finish reading while undergoing cancer surgery can make him resign is shameful.


  58. - Farmer John - Tuesday, Jan 14, 20 @ 9:47 pm:

    I agree this is a big loss to illinois farmers. John is a respectable honest man. He obviously is JB’s fall guy. Who else got the email? Will the media (yes you Mr Miller) have the nerve to question your buddy King Mike and his cronies?


Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.


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