Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

That’s Incredible – Why Marilyn’s Story Can’t Be Believed

By - Jun 8th, 2001 01:10 pm

I don’t claim to know who’s right in the vicious dispute between Marilyn Figueroa and John Norquist. But I do know one thing: Figueroa’s story has a lot of holes and contradictions. As these inconsistencies mount up, her story begins to seem like a fantasy.

Figueroa, for instance, claims she was living on S. 26th St. when Norquist begin harassing her to have sex. But the forms she filled out with the city’s Department of Employment Relations, which I requested under the state Open Records law, show that Marilyn was living on S. 19th St. in November 1994, when Norquist’s pursuit began. Marilyn moved to S. 26th St. on October 24, 1995, the records show. In short, some 11 months after Norquist’s pursuit began, Figueroa decided to move one block away from the man she was supposedly doing everything to resist.

Telephone records during this period show no listing for Figueroa until late 1996, where she shows up at a new residence, at 3118 Fardale Rd., in an apartment house just west of Point Loomis shopping center. You might think that Figueroa had now decided she had to get away from the mayor, a fact she would want to broadcast to the press, or would even include in her legal complaint. But she’s never volunteered this information.

Curious, I visited the Fardale apartment house and found it rather impregnable: it has a locked lobby and Marilyn’s apartment was on the second floor. In short, she could have simply refused to answer had Norquist buzzed her.

One of the documents filed by Figueroa says, “The mayor commenced a practice of stopping at the home of the claimant uninvited.” It’s difficult to see how he could do that on Fardale. I interviewed two residents of this apartment, who remembered Figueroa living there for at least two years, until she bought a home in Bay View in June 1998. But they had never seen Norquist in the neighborhood.

These sorts of details become important, since Figueroa claims Norquist attacked her at her residence on several occasions. But she never explains how the mayor forced his way into her home.

It’s worth noting that both Figueroa and Norquist have children, which can make sexual encounters difficult. Figueroa, in fact, claims she brought her children with her to work to protect her from the mayor. Wouldn’t they have provided an even better shield in her own home?

Figueroa’s account suggests that, for five years, she lived in dread of the mayor’s harassment. But in 1996, in the midst of this terror, Figueroa worked as a volunteer on Norquist’s reelection campaign. “We put together a campaign that Marilyn headed up for us,” says Norquist campaign coordinator Bill Christofferson. The goal was to register Hispanics to vote, in hopes they would support Norquist.

Figueroa recruited her good friend Marianna Reyes-Murillo, her brother Alvin Rodriguez, her sister Virgilio Rodriguez and several others with the last name of Rodriguez (Marilyn’s maiden name), to help with this voter registration effort. It’s possible that some of Marilyn’s other eight siblings were among the group. The mayor’s campaign records show a payment of $150 to Alvin and another 18 payments, usually of $50, to Edgardo, Pascual, Virgilio, Brenda, Caroline and Nancy Rodriguez and to Reyes-Murillo. In short, those closest to Marilyn were working to re-elect a man who was making her life hell.

Figueroa has never responded to interview requests, other than a long exclusive she granted Milwaukee Magazine. In this story, Figueroa and an unnamed “confidante” claimed she was forced to do double duty in the fall of 1999, working for both the mayor’s office and for his campaign. Christofferson and Norquist were trying to “break her,” the confidante claims. This would be a very damning allegation in a harassment case, but interestingly, Figueroa has never made this claim in her filings with the state. In fact, the campaign finance records of Norquist show that Figueroa was paid $1,052.96 per month for her election work. Christofferson says Figueroa worked half time for the mayor’s office during this time, and her city salary was lowered by the amount she made from the campaign, a typical arrangement during campaigns.

During Figueroa’s seven years in the mayor’s office, Figueroa’s salary increased from $38,500 to $55,000, rising twice as fast as the rate of inflation. But she could have risen even higher. In the fall of 1996, Christofferson offered her the job of head of the community block grant office. At the time, her salary was $47,418 and the new position would have paid $69,421. She turned it down.

Christofferson says that he offered the job to Figueroa again, at a time when her annual salary was $54,871 and the block grant directorship would have paid her $71,161. Figueroa does not deny this, but has alternately claimed this is a high pressure or dead-end job. It doesn’t appear to have worked that way for Mike Soika, who served two stints in that office and each time went on to other duties with the city, or for Mike Brady, who held that position from 1992 to 1996, and went on to another job with the city.

Brady calls the job “a great opportunity. I wouldn’t call it a hot seat, but it was a daily challenge.”

Figueroa may have preferred some other job, but how can you argue that you were denied promotions when you’re offered a job that increases your salary by 30 or 40 percent? To Christofferson, the promotion was a logical one, since one of Figueroa’s assignments in the mayor’s office was to handle block grant allocation issues, which made her well-versed on such issues.

Oddly, Figueroa claims that one reason she had sex with the mayor was because he threatened to override her block grant recommendations. In short, she was willing to have unwanted sex to fight for the block grants, but was unwilling to take a $22,000 raise to accomplish the same end.

Figueroa’s complaint states that she “expressed interest” in other jobs, but they went to other employees. But where is the paper work showing that she applied for these jobs? Wouldn’t anyone being sexually harassed formally apply for these jobs, to prove the discrimination? Figueroa, after all, has been widely described as a smart and formidable strategist. Instead, the paper trail shows she turned down jobs that would take her out of the mayor’s office.

Figueroa also says she was trapped in her job because she lacked a college degree. But when the mayor first hired her, she told an entirely different story. A letter to the Common Council in 1992 explained that a starting salary of $38,500 “was the minimum rate she would find acceptable. She currently has three job offers pending with starting salaries ranging from $31,000 to $42,000.” Either Figueroa is a very marketable employee or she isn’t, but how can she be both?

Figueroa says she was suicidal and under severe emotional stress due to sexual harassment, yet she never seemed to seek help for her problem. The city, for instance, offers anti-harassment training for employees. But city records show that Figueroa was scheduled for such training March 5,1999 and did not appear. She was rescheduled for May 3, 1999 and did not appear, and then rescheduled for September 21,1999 and did not appear.

Figueroa says she met with Florence Dukes, deputy director of the Department of Employment Relations, and inquired about filling out an EEOC complaint. Dukes, evidence shows, sent Figueroa a complaint form that enables employees to make a claim of racial discrimination or sexual harassment, but Figueroa never filled it out. Figueroa now says she decided that Dukes was in cahoots with Norquist. But once again, why didn’t she create the paperwork to show she was being harassed? Instead she left the Norquist administration with a veiled threat that she would seek some kind of action.

The problems with Figueroa’s account multiply as you look closely at it. Here is a woman who was not just sexually harassed, but sexually assaulted by the mayor, and suffered for five years, yet never confided the gory details to a friend. Figueroa claims she told the mayor she was going to seek professional help, but has never provided testimony from a therapist of any kind. She claims she left her city job because she had a nervous breakdown and went to the hospital, but has never produced a record of her hospitalization.

Then there are Figueroa’s attempts to build sympathy, telling us she couldn’t afford the down payment on her home, until her two children used their piggy banks to come up with $300. Those must be large pigs. Or how about that “run-down Tudor” home she bought? The home is a brick house of considerable size (it’s a converted duplex) in a very desirable neighborhood – one half block from Humboldt Park – that cost $127,000. Modest Bay View homes sell for as little as $70,000.

Then there is Figueroa’s account of Norquist coming to this home and beating on the door, while Figueroa and her children hid in the dark and cowered. If that story seems even faintly believable, here’s a suggestion: Take a ride to 3151 Pine St. and look at that scene. Try to picture the Mayor of Milwaukee, perhaps the most recognizable figure in town, making a noisy ruckus on a street that has no trees and where his every move would be obvious to the entire neighborhood. Sorry, Marilyn, I don’t believe it.

Coming in our next column: Is Marilyn a Gold-Digger?


I have heard Ms. Figueroa, through her attorney, deny that she was ever offered any promotional opportunity for positions outside of the mayor’s office during her time on the staff.

I served as chief of staff in the office of Mayor John O. Norquist from June 1996 to June 1998. In that capacity I was responsible for direct supervision of the rest of the staff, including six staff assistants. One of those staff assistants who reported to me was Marilyn Figueroa.

On two occasions, I offered Ms. Figueroa opportunities to become the director of the city’s Community Development Block Grant office. The move would have been a substantial promotion with a large salary increase, and would have moved her out of the mayor’s office. Both times she said she was not interested.

I first talked to her in late October or early November 1996, when the position was becoming vacant, and asked her whether she wanted the job. One of her assignments in the mayor’s office was to handle block grant allocation issues, and she served on the policy committee which recommended how money should be distributed. Because of her familiarity with the process, the office, and the organizations which were funded, she seemed a logical choice. At the time of the offer, Ms. Figueroa was in Salary Grade 7 with an annual salary of $47,418. The block grant director’s position was in Salary Grade 15, with an annual salary of $69,421. She said she was not interested in the position, and Stephen Holt was hired.

In March of 1998, when a vacancy again occurred in the block grant director position, I asked her again whether she wanted the job. At that point her salary in Grade 7 was at $48,890 and the Grade 15 salary in the other position was $69,421. She again said she was not interested and someone else, Michael Soika, was hired, in part on her recommendation.

During the time I was chief of staff, Ms. Figueroa also expressed interest in a position which was open in the Dept. of City Development, which I recall was a Salary Grade 8 or 9, and would also have been a promotion outside of the mayor’s office. I encouraged her to seek it and said I would support her application and use my influence to try to help her get the position. She made some inquiries about the position and discussed it with some DCD officials, and it was clear she was a top candidate if she wanted the job. But she decided not to seek it, and to stay in the mayor’s office instead.

Ms. Figueroa was offered the block grant director position a third time, when Michael Soika left that position to become chief of staff. Mr. Soika asked her then whether she wanted the job, and she again declined. At that time Ms. Figueroa’s annual salary was $54,871 and the block grant directorship would have paid her $71,161.

Finally, it is my understanding that Ms. Figueroa was in serious consideration for and had an opportunity to be hired as director of a non-profit organization, outside of city government during 1999, but chose not to pursue that position either.

I am prepared, if the legal process proceeds, to testify to this under oath.

Mayor Norquist’s version of his relationship with Marilyn Figueroa
Presented March 23, 2001
From: Anne B. Shindell — Shindell Law Firm, LLC
To: Pamela A. Muelemans — Equal Rights Division

The sexual relationship between Ms. Figueroa and Mr. Norquist began in November 1994. The relationship was initiated by Ms. Figueroa, who invited Mr. Norquist to her home and drove him there in her car. Mr. Norquist said at the outset that the relationship would not lead to anything permanent and Ms. Figueroa said that was fine, that the relationship was not serious but just “fun.” Their contact was infrequent, and Ms. Figueroa complained that Mr. Norquist did not see her more often and that he declined to spend an entire night with her. The relationship ended in November 1999.

When Ms. Figueroa purchased a home on Pine Street, she asked Mr. Norquist to contribute to the down payment so that it would be in her words “our home.” After she purchased it, she informed Mr. Norquist that she had her brother build a fence in the back yard so that she and Mr. Norquist could sit together.

In September of 1997, when Mr. Norquist and Ms. Figueroa were together in Chicago, she gave him a gift of hand sewn clothing which she said that she had made herself.

In the fall of 1999, Ms. Figueroa invited Mr. Norquist to Puerto Rico to see where she lived and to meet her relatives living there.

Ms. Figueroa did say on one occasion, in October 1999, that she wanted to end the relationship because she felt betrayed — that she loved Mr. Norquist but he had betrayed her by not helping her win promotions or advancements in city government that she perceived would result from the relationship. Mr. Norquist agreed to end the relationship. She left in anger. This conversation took place at Mr. Norquist’s home, where Ms. Figueroa came after requesting a meeting with him.

Subsequently, at a public event two or three weeks later, Ms. Figueroa pressed her body against Mr. Norquist, stood near him, and said that she really wanted to see him again. She called him later that night at his home and came to his house, where they had a consensual sexual encounter.

Two weeks later, she invited Mr. Norquist to her home in the morning, and greeted him in a negligee. After that sexual encounter, she again stated that she wanted to see Mr. Norquist. She invited him to her home for Thanksgiving with her family, but he declined.

In their last meeting, on November 29, 1999, Ms. Figueroa came to Mr. Norquist’s home to pick him up and drove him to her home. Ms. Figueroa accepted the gift of a bracelet from Mr. Norquist, which he had purchased that day, and gave him a gift of massage oil and administered a back massage with the oil. Afterward, Ms. Figueroa drove Mr. Norquist back to his home.

In a telephone conversation a few days later, Ms. Figueroa said that she did not want to continue the relationship. Mr. Norquist agreed and the relationship ended.

Figueroa’s response to Norquist’s version
April 20, 2001
From: Victor M. Arellano – Lawton and Cates, S.C.
(Representing Marilyn Figueroa)
To: Pamela Meulemans — Equal Rights Division

Mayor Norquist’s portrayal of his encounters with Complainant (Ms. Figueroa) are untruthful. He came to Complainant’s home uninvited and his sexual behavior was never characterized as “fun” as he now claims. Complainant characterized his predatory behavior as demeaning and unwelcome. (All those incidents have already been addressed in previous submissions to the Department.) Similarly, Mayor Norquist’s claims regarding allegations made against Complainant related to the purchase of her current home are clearly false and defamatory in nature. Complainant never requested any type of assistance to purchase her home. The down payment Complainant made to purchase her home came from her children’s fund, a bank loan and personal savings. (We invite the Mayor to produce any evidence which may support this unfounded claim!) The claims related to the fence placed at Complainant’s property are total creations of Mayor John O. Norquist’s imagination and are without merit. The Complainant offers the following response:

“The Mayor is simply grasping for facts and when they do not exist he makes them up. The FENCE: My brother-in-law built the fence in my home because I needed to secure my back yard as I have young children and nieces and nephews that are toddlers and I didn’t want them to be unsafe. The only reason the mayor knows there is a fence at my house is because I applied for the required permit in order to comply with City Ordinances and as part of his predatory and controlling behavior he investigated everything I did personally as well as professionally. Again, the mayor does not understand that the harassment was not welcome and that sitting together or anywhere near him was in fact demeaning and frightening. I can provide you with a copy of the City Permit.”

Marilyn Figueroa

Similarly, Mayor Norquist’s claim that he received hand-sewn clothing is another fabrication without any merit. Complainant did in fact make a scarf for another staff member as a Christmas gift, as she had picked his name from an office Christmas drawing. Upon information and belief, Mayor Norquist confronted Complainant and demanded she make one for him. Obviously it never happened.

This article was originally published by Milwaukee World.

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