Campaign worker arrested following altercation

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By SETH STERN

A high ranking Cook County government employee was arrested in Forest Park last week following an altercation with a homeowner over a political campaign sign.

Vincent Jones, 43, called police Jan. 15 when a resident of a condo building at 1005 Desplaines Ave. attempted to remove yard signs he had put up for Proviso High School District 209 Board President Chris Welch's campaign for 7th District State Representative.

According to a police report on file with the Forest Park Police Department, the resident informed Lt. Steve Johnsen that he was looking to sell his condo and did not like the appearance of the yard sign, and had asked Jones to take it down.

"Our presumption is that to post on private property you need the authority of the building's board of directors " there had been no communication to the resident that they had permission," said Forest Park Police Chief James Ryan.

When the resident attempted to remove the sign on his own, according to the report, Jones grabbed him by both wrists and then grabbed the front of his jacket in an effort to force him to leave the sign alone.

Jones, a resident of the 7700 block of Harvard Street in Forest Park, works as a Deputy Purchasing Agent for Cook County and is a cousin of County Board President John Stroger. Jones became belligerent when speaking to police, threatening to call Cook County Recorder of Deeds Eugene Moore and Forest Park Mayor Anthony Calderone and have the officers "taken care of politically."

Calderone emphatically denied that he had spoken to Jones or given him permission to post the signs.

The resident at first said he did not wish to sign a complaint because he feared retaliation by Jones, and Jones was allowed to leave the scene.

When other campaign workers still on the scene complied with officers' demands to remove the signs, Jones returned, yelling to "put those ****ing signs back right now." He grabbed a sign from the stack that the other workers had collected and stuck it back in the ground.

Officers then asked Jones for his ID several times and he refused, repeatedly swearing at the police officers. After he tried to break free from the police, officers pushed him into the wall of the condo building and eventually were able to handcuff and arrest him.

During the arrest, Jones said several times that he had been beaten up and was going to sue, and according to Ryan, he filed a complaint the following day alleging that excessive force was used during the arrest.

Moore came to the Forest Park police station along with Jones' daughter's mother to post the $1,000 bond, and Jones will face charges of battery and resisting arrest on March 16.

Arrest heightens allegations of cronyism, improper campaigning

Jones' arrest and his political ties have led to renewed criticism of the alleged exchange of jobs for political favors, an accusation regularly faced by each Moore, Stroger, and Welch.

Welch recently voted to hire his brother, Billy Welch, a former employee at the Recorder of Deeds Office, as a custodian at Dist. 209. Moore's Chief of Staff Sue Henry serves alongside Welch on the Dist. 209 board of education as a member of Welch's Students First Party.

Both Moore and Welch are currently campaigning against 7th District State Representative Karen Yarbrough, with Welch challenging Yarbrough for her state rep spot and Yarbrough challenging Moore for his position as Democratic Committeeman for the Proviso Township.

"(Welch, Moore and Stroger) are taking over every school district, township, and local government they can, and now they're going after state taxes," said Cook County Commissioner Tony Peraica (R-16), who is challenging Stroger for his board presidency.

Peraica said that Jones is only one of many relatives of Stroger's on the county payroll, and said that "the fact they have relatives throughout the system is proof of the patronage that exists."

John Gibson, a spokesman for Stroger, said that Jones exhibited "very bad judgment."

"President Stroger does not condone anything even close to resembling the conduct exhibited by this man," he said.

The incident also marks the latest in a string of complaints regarding the Welch and Moore campaigns. Ryan noted that Forest Park's public works department was recently asked to remove several Welch and Moore campaign signs on village property.

Bellwood Mayor Frank Pasquale acknowledged that his village also experienced problems with signs posted on village property, but said he has since spoken to Welch and the matter has been resolved.

Though most are reluctant to speak to the press, accusations have also surfaced concerning pressure being placed on District 209 maintenance workers to campaign for Welch and Moore.

One custodian, who did not wish to be named, said that "65 to 70 percent" of the district's maintenance staff is participating in the current campaign.

Typically, he said, workers are given the campaign literature that they'll be distributing on Thursday and Fridays by Director of Facilities Jose Santiago, who was himself once investigated by former Superintendent Greg Jackson for campaigning on school grounds during Welch's last school board race.

The custodians, as well as other campaign workers, then meet Saturday morning at Moore's office at 9N 5th Ave. in Maywood to receive their marching orders.

"They're told that if a promotion is coming up and you want it and you're not helping, you're not going to get it," said the custodian.

Welch, Moore and Jones did not return calls seeking comment for this story.

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