Windy City Times spoke to Rick Garcia, the ousted political director of Equality Illinois, late Friday night, Dec. 17. What follows are excerpts from that interview.
Garcia said that Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov told him, "I am going to be very gracious and amicable," and Garcia said he looked at him and said, "Do you think for one minute that I'm going to be gracious and amicable?"
Yasmin Nair: So, to start then, our story is that you have been released from EI and could you tell us what happened, why, when?
Garcia: I went into the office for a meeting at 5 o'clock last night [Dec. 16]. I went into Bernard's office. There was one of our board members that nobody would know, hello, and I sat down and Bernard just looked at me and said, "Your services are no longer needed and we are terminating you now." Now, the state of Illinois is an at-will state and anybody can be fired at any time, so he just fired my ass at about 5 o'clock last night. Um, about 45 minutes before I was supposed to be over at [Center on Halsted] to give a talk.
So he fired me 10 days after we passed a civil-unions bill that only six states have. He fires me. Who has passed more civil-rights legislation in this country than that little nastyI can't even think of the termthat he would even think of? And then he sits across from me and says, "I'm terminating you because we don't need you up here no more." And that's what he said to me. We're terminating you.
Nair: And did he give any reasons?
Garcia: Absolutely not. He told me that at some point in the future we could have an exit … an exit interview and "we will go over what the problems were" OK. OK, fine, fine.
Nair: And what was your response to him?
Garcia: "Fuck you." [Laughs.] I mean, I have to be really real, you know. I sat there across from him, less than 10 days from passing a civil-unions bill in Illinois. Passing a statewide gay-rights bill in the state of Illinois, in 2005, giving state employees domestic-partner benefits, allowing lesbians to have in vitro fertilization covered by their insurers. And excuse my language, it's really rude, OKand this bitch is going to dismiss me. I don't think so. I do not think so. I challengehere's the thing, here's the thing. I challenge him to come up with anybody who has my record. And I've always said that, I can stand on my record. Who, who, who, who has my record?
I mean when he first came to work for us, he kept on saying, [does a mocking imitation], "Oh, my God, Rick, I would really love to be you, I would really love to stand up there and talk like you." But you know what, Yasmin, you know what else I do? It's not being up there talking. It's about getting the job done.
And you know it's and you know I was removed from the office by police.
Nair: Yes, I know.
Garcia: I'm glad you know that. I did that on purpose.
Nair: How did you do it by purpose? What do you mean by that?
Garcia: Well, I went to the office. I walked in. He looked shocked that I was there. He did not think that I was going to come in. And then he said, Well, we all have to leave to go to the Christmas party. I said, "Well, have fun." "Well, we can't leave you here, in an unlocked office." He says, to the founder, the founder of that mother-fucking office. "We can't leave you in here with an unlocked door." I said, "Well, call the police." And he did, and four police officers came, and of course they all know me from the neighborhood. You know, it's all really nasty and it doesn't have to be nasty. And he's making it nasty. And that's the thing.
Nair: Basically, you said, call the police; the police came in. Did you have any conversation with the police at all?
Garcia: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. They came in. I said, "I think I'm ready for you." They said, "OK. Next time you want to get anything out of here, call him and talk it out." It was very amicable, very nice. But you know, four police officers were there for him to throw me outwhile the rest of our staff is at their Christmas party, which he doesn't want me to go to.
Nair: So no one touched you or anything like thatthey were just escorting you out?
Garcia: Oh, no, absolutely, no, no, no, no.
Nair: And who elseyou said there was another board member?
Garcia: Kyle [Spainhour]. He's somebody that, truth be told, I think I've seen him maybe once or twice in my entire life. I mean, this is not somebody who is doing anything for the community. He has the opportunity to be on the EI board.
Nair: And do you think any of this had to do with the issue around Howard Brown Health Center that we had talked about? [Garcia spoke frankly about the controversies at HBHC.]
Garcia: Well, I will tell you this. I do know that Jamal [Edwards, the new head of HBHC] and Paul Fairchild [former HBHC development director] complained to Bernard about me. And that's where much of this began.
Nair: Did he [Bernard] ever talk to you personally?
Garcia: No, no. You know what? The only time we see each other, we say hello, nod, but he never ever talked to me personally. The only thing I know is that he told whatever his name is I'm drawing a complete blank …
Nair: BernardJamal told Bernard?
Garcia: Yeah, he told Bernard that he was very upset with what I had said about Howard Brown. And of course I stand by what I said about Howard Brown. We need to be transparent. You know what? EI needs to be transparent. We need to know where the money comes from, where it goes, and what we do with it. Simple as that.
Nair: Now we did contact Jamal and Bernard separately to ask about what you had told us. Jamal did not deny making the phone call [but pointed out that Rick criticized Howard Brown Health Center during a time when the details of what HBHC was facing were not fully known nor available. In response, Jamal says he told Bernard: "People should not judge anyone, or any organization, without first being fully advised of the facts"]. Bernard said he had a conversation with you but he never threatened termination. So what would your response be to that?
Garcia: Well, I would say that Bernard is a liar. That's on the record. He is a complete liar. He has lied more than once. I'm sure he'll lie again. And that's one of the reasons why I have a difficult time continuing to work for EI. Because Bernard is a liar.
Nair: So you've had problems with Bernard in the past then, since he came on?
Garcia: Well, I never trusted him. You know why? For instance, let's talk about the current situation. Bernard tells me [mimics]: "I have talked to the board and all of the board agrees. I am here just giving you what the board is saying about your termination." And then I talked to four board members and you know what they all say to me? "What the hell is he talking about?"
Nair: So you think it was not really passed through the board either?
Garcia: No, no, it's him. It's him and a couple of other people. Here's the bottom line. I know that there are board members who would never want to fire me. Cathy Sikora, Dan Dever, Art Johnston. I know a couple of others. There are four that I know. And then Bernard has the audacity to stand there and say [mimicking], "the board agrees with me." You know what? All of the board doesn't agree with him.
Nair: Have you spoken to Cathy or Dan or Art Johnston?
Garcia: I have spoken to Cathy and I have talked to Art.
Nair: OK, and so nothing was brought up about the Howard Brown issueno reasons were given at all?
Garcia: At my meeting, all they said [was]: "This is not working out. You are terminated, and there was no reason for being terminated. But as I always say, "I ain't going nowhere." And even if the police have to come to my office every morning to take me out of there, that's gonna be fine, 'cause I know, Yasmin, I think you know this: I'm not there for the cops, I am not there for the politicians, I am there for the people who need us, and that's why I'm there. That's why I will continue to be there.
Nair: So do you plan to go back to the office on Monday or … what action will you take from now on?
Garcia: On Monday?? On Monday?? Honey, I'm going up there tomorrow. They may have changed the locks, but you know what, I have work to do. We have work to do. You know what, all this … let's cut through all this, OK? We have serious work to do. And I'll go up there and do it. You know what? I don't care what this crazy megalomaniac CEO or whatever he's called, I don't care about the idiot president of our board because that chap is such an idiot … I don't care what they think. Because I know that people need help and people need protection now.
Nair: So you'll keep going back to do your work even if it means that every day the police will come to escort you out?
Garcia: Yes. And then I'll do my work in my car. [laughs] I'm always going back to do my work. That is what God made me to do.
Nair: And so you have no plans to go into any other organization or anything like that?
Garcia: No. no, no, no, no. And I should always these days, I think, be referred to as the founder of EI. They don't want me to be referred to as anything else, but they can't take 'I am the founder of the organization,' they can't take that away from me.