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Chris Welch, president of the District 209 school board, said Tuesday he intends to run against Karen Yarbrough for 7th District State Representative in next spring’s primary.

“I am circulating petitions, I’ve been out there knocking on doors and meeting people, and I have garnered a lot of support. A more formal announcement will be coming soon,” he said.

Yarbrough said that she discussed the matter with Welch on Monday. She said she was surprised to hear of his plans as he had denied rumors that he would be running against her as recently as June.

According to Yarbrough, Welch told her that he was upset that people she associated with, including District 209 board member Charles Flowers, blogger Carl Nyberg, Maywood youth mentor Barbara Coles and Yarbrough supporter Gary Woll, had been critical of his policies at District 209.

She said that Welch called his critics Yarbrough’s “attack dogs,” and implied that he might drop out of the race if she got them to quiet down.

Welch said that though he does believe Yarbrough is behind much of the criticism that has been directed his way, this is not his motive for running.

“My motivation to run against Karen Yarbrough is solely because I believe I’m a proven leader and a real Democrat and I can do a better job than she can,” he said. He said that Yarbrough had told her that she does not believe it is a state representative’s job to become involved in education, and criticized her for failing to fight the No Child Left Behind Act in Springfield.

“Our representative should be on the education committee, not on the insurance committee serving her own interests,” he said.

Yarbrough said that while she does not think it is the role of a state representative to become involved in school board politics, she sees education as an important part of her job.

“My role is to bring resources to the district,” she explained.

Yarbrough also denied that she exerts any control over Welch’s critics. Welch pointed to a July 20 column in the Review where Nyberg admitted to being a friend of Yarbrough’s as proof of his claim.

Nyberg said that his friendship with Yarbrough had nothing to do with his criticism of Welch. “Chris Welch doesn’t believe that any political organization can exist without someone pulling the strings, because that’s how he operates. He doesn’t believe there are people who actually believe in good government,” he said.

Welch’s candidacy is sure to revive accusations that some recent District 209 hires were politically motivated.

In July, for example, Welch and the board majority voted to hire Dr. Phyllistine Murphy as interim assistant superintendent for technology and operations at a salary of $125,000. Murphy, who was later made superintendent, is a trustee in Bellwood, where Welch would need the support of Mayor Frank Pasquale, a past supporter of Yarbrough.

Flowers said he is certain that this hiring and others were connected to Welch’s political ambitions.

“I look at him as a person who is consumed and crazed with power…his actions as school board president would tell me what not to vote for,” said Flowers.

Welch said that such allegations come from opponents with political agendas of their own and should not be taken seriously.

“They’ve been saying that since I first got involved in the board four years ago. The same allegations can be made about (Yarbrough) and some of the hires in Maywood,” he said, citing her husband Henderson Yarbrough’s successful run for Mayor as an example.

Yarbrough admitted that at one point she was a fan of Welch’s. “I used to support him – I thought he had a bright future,” she said. “(Now), he’s so embroiled in so much controversy…his star is not shining very brightly.”

“Let the game’s begin ” I’m ready to run and I’m ready to win. I know what it takes to win this race,” she said.

Welch said that he is an “educational leader with a proven track record and a real Democrat,” and is confident the voters will choose him.

Yarbrough said that she is not aware of anyone else planning to run against her.

Primaries for the state rep race are scheduled for March 21, 2006.