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Just a week after word got out that District 209 Board of Education President Chris Welch would be challenging her in next year’s primaries, 7th District State Representative Karen Yarbrough began her campaign by assembling local mayors, politicians and other supporters for a press conference Monday afternoon.

The event took place at the Bellwood Village Hall and was hosted by Bellwood Mayor Frank Pasquale, who displayed photographs of repaired Bellwood alleys that he said could not have been fixed without state funding secured by Yarbrough.

Also in attendance were Congressman Danny K. Davis, State Senator Don Harman, 8th District State Representative Calvin Giles, Broadview Mayor Henry Vicenik and Yarbrough’s husband, Maywood Mayor Henderson Yarbrough.

Forest Park Mayor Anthony Calderone did not attend, but was listed among the mayors expected to endorse Yarbrough. He could not be reached for comment before the Review went to press.

Yarbrough used her speech to portray herself as an accessible and accountable representative who provides “leadership, hard work and dedication to make life better for those who rely on government.”

“I am running for re-election because I truly understand the difference between an elected official who empowers and works for the best interests of the people and a politician who cares about only empowering himself,” she said.

She especially emphasized her accomplishments in the area of education, where she has received the most criticism from Welch so far in this early stage of the contest. She pointed to a $4.1 million increase in state funding that she secured for school districts in the 7th District.

Though she did not mention Welch’s name during her speech, she did respond to his charge that she used her appointment to the state’s insurance committee to serve her own financial interests, stating that she was appointed to the committee because of her experience in insurance and was proud to serve.

She said that some insurance companies are probably not pleased with some of her actions as vice chairperson of the committee, including blocking legislation that would have increased the cost of liability insurance.

She spoke of her efforts to connect state government to the people by hosting town hall meetings, one of which was held at the Forest Park Community Center on Tuesday, as well as her ability to overcome political tensions to gain bipartisan support for legislation and funding.

She went through a list of funding increases that have benefited the communities she served, including Forest Park.

“Mayor Calderone is very happy with the $225,000 upgrade to Forest Park’s 911 dispatch system,” she said.

Yarbrough, who chairs the House Committee on Housing and Urban Development, also noted the $7 million increase secured throughout the state for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program as well as the SB75 housing support bill to provide subsidies to landlords to allow them to lower rent costs for low income tenants.

She also mentioned her revival of the Illinois Clean Air Act, which she said “had languished in the House for more than 25 years without success.” The law, she said, now allows municipalities in Illinois to regulate smoking as they see fit.

“There were more than 30 bills that I either sponsored or co-sponsored that are now law in Illinois,” she said. “I take pride in my ability as an effective legislator.”

Welch could not be reached for comment for this story, but he said last week that he would be holding a press conference to formally announce his candidacy in the near future.