State Rep. Karen Yarbrough (D-7) handily defeated challenger and Proviso High School District 209 board of education president Chris Welch in last week’s primary election, receiving upwards of 73 percent of the vote.
In a slightly more contested race, Yarbrough also defeated Cook County Recorder of Deeds Eugene Moore for his spot as Proviso Township Democratic Committeeman, getting about 58 percent of the vote in that contest.
Though many expected a more hotly contested race following Welch and Moore’s high output of yard signs and campaign literature, Yarbrough said she was not surprised by the results.
“Chris and Gene ran a sign campaign. I can’t imagine how much money they spent. I look at the D-2s (campaign disclosure forms), and I’m not seeing the money. Everywhere I went, they peppered the cars. One thing they didn’t do was go to the doors, and that’s where the voters are,” she said. “The people spoke and I was very, very happy. Surprised? No.”
Yarbrough also challenged Moore for his committeeman seat in 2002, but lost the race.
She said that she hopes to heal divisions among Democrats in the highly Democratic Proviso Township.
“We want to set the tone and agenda for the township and make sure anyone that wants to be involved will be able to participate,” she said. “In talking to local mayors, they’ve told me that they only saw the committeeman when it was time to circulate nominating positions ” that won’t be the case.”
One of her first priorities, she said, will be to reverse the reputation of the committeeman’s office as a source of patronage hiring. Since winning the election, she said she has received several calls from Dist. 209 employees who thought their jobs were in danger due to the change in leadership.
“There’s a culture there and maybe they think it’s business as usual,” she said. “People I’ve worked with already know who I am and how I work”I’ve let people know that’s not what I’m about,” she said.
Yarbrough said she hopes to begin her fourth term by pushing legislation designed to help overcome the lack of affordable rental housing throughout the 7th district, which includes several Proviso villages and six precincts on the West Side of Chicago.
One of Welch’s primary criticisms of Yarbrough throughout the campaign was that she failed to make herself visible in local schools. Touting his Dist. 209 board presidency and the construction of the Proviso Math and Science Academy in Forest Park, Welch framed himself as “the education candidate.”
Yarbrough, meanwhile, maintained that it is not the role of a state legislature to micromanage the affairs of local schools or become involved in school board politics. She said that her role in education was to set policy and secure funding that would assist schools in performing to their potential.
Though Yarbrough said this view had not been changed by Welch’s criticism, she noted that as committeeman, she will have a much more involved role in identifying potential candidates for local elections, including school board races.
She said that she feels school board candidates should be more connected to the schools they represent, and that she would not support school board candidates who send their own children to private schools.
“If it’s a good system and you want to make it better, why not have kids in that system,” she said. Though Yarbrough did not name names, members of Welch’s slate on the Dist. 209 board have been rumored to fit into this category.
Yarbrough, the former president of the Maywood Chamber of Commerce, was first elected in 2001. She chairs the House Committee on Housing and Urban Development and serves as vice chairperson of its Insurance Committee. She is also a licensed Realtor and the founder of the Hathaway Insurance Agency. Her husband, Henderson Yarbrough, is the mayor of Maywood.
Welch, an attorney with the law firm James J. Roche and Associates, currently serves as president of the Proviso High School District 209 Board of Education, and has served on that school board since 2001.
He has also served on the Desplaines Valley Mosquito Abatement District board since 2003, and serves as legal counsel for Bellwood School District 88. During his campaign, he promised to fight for increased school funding and push programs enhancing communication between school districts and law enforcement.
The issues, however, became secondary in the race to ongoing allegations of unfair campaign practices, with both candidates being accused of either illegally placing yard signs or vandalizing those of the other candidate.
Welch has endured criticism for several campaign donations received from Dist. 209 contractors that he helped hire, while Yarbrough has caught criticism for her acceptance of campaign contributions from consultant Anthony Bruno, who remains under federal investigation. Yarbrough said she has only met with Bruno after local mayors hired him to work on their projects.
Welch has not returned calls since the election. His voice mail message on his cell phone says he is on vacation.