Senator apologizes for sexual comments

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – An assistant majority leader in the Senate apologized Tuesday for sexually suggestive remarks he made a day earlier to a first-year colleague.

Chicago Democrat Rickey Hendon told Sen. Cheryl Axley he was sorry for comments he made during the traditional “hazing” that occurs when rookies call their debut legislation in the General Assembly.

The Mount Prospect Republican’s proposal, which passed 47-1, dealt with township government roads. After others had grilled her with silly questions, Hendon, a senator since 1993, asked Axley whether her hair is naturally blonde, then asked if the 46-year-old newcomer would go “on a township road with me later on tonight.”

When the Democratic presiding officer chided him, Hendon responded, “Don’t deny me my opportunity, here. I mean, she looks like she’s only 16 or 17, I might be able to trick her, or something.”

On Monday afternoon, Hendon was defensive, telling a reporter, “You need to give me a break. I was trying to be funny.”

If anybody took offense, it was only you.”

But Tuesday, the 52-year-old senator said, “I apologize to the whole world” and added that he decided, after a sleepless night, that his hazing days are over.

“I was over the top, crossed the line, whatever, and I’ll never haze another freshman on their first bill again in my career, no matter what. I’m done,” Hendon told The Associated Press. “I will haze nobody, never, ever again, because even if it’s in fun or if you don’t mean it, clearly, some people can take offense.”

Axley, one of 14 women in the 59-member Senate, was appointed to fill the post of Sen. Dave Sullivan, who resigned. She said Hendon told her that in “the heat of the moment, it got out of hand,” but she considered the matter settled.

“I accept his apology, it’s over, my bill passed, I look forward to passing many other bills without the hazing,” she said, smiling.

Hendon, in his role as lieutenant to Senate President Emil Jones, was presiding over the chamber during Senate business Tuesday.

“I suggested to him that he should personally say something to her regarding that issue and simply apologize,” Jones, a Chicago Democrat, said.

Assistant Majority Leader Debbie Halvorson of Crete, who was in the chair during the incident, told Hendon his queries were inappropriate. Later, she said Hendon meant the comments in jest but that he might need “a little training.”

When asked whether men face the same type of hazing, Halvorson said, “Maybe next time they should be, and I’ll make sure of it, because this is an equal opportunity chamber.”

Axley said after 21 years in the business world as a lawyer, “I’m familiar with the climate,” and didn’t need to brace herself for the male-dominated Illinois General Assembly.

“I’m well-able to handle myself,” Axley said. “I steeled myself as a freshman in the Senate, not necessarily as one of the … women in the Senate.”