Politics may make for strange bedfellows, indeed.
State Rep. Karen Yarbrough and District 209 school board President Chris Welch were at the center of recent speculation that a new accord had been struck following years of fierce political battles. Yarbrough, the township committeeman, helped provide Welch an audience Saturday at a Proviso Township Democratic Organization meeting in Broadview.
“What is this burying-the-hatchet talk coming from,” Yarbrough said when asked about the meeting. “I can be cordial to anybody.”
According to Yarbrough, it is only fair that heavy-hitters within the party get a chance to hear directly from candidates. Welch asked her if he could address the organization, she said, and after speaking with other Dems, the Feb. 28 meeting was set.
Yarbrough flatly denied that her relationship with Welch is anything more than civil.
“Hopefully, people that know me know that I try to be fair. Quite frankly, Chris has made his own bed and he has to run on his record,” Yarbrough said.
The meeting comes as Welch kicks his school board re-election campaign into gear, and may indicate he is looking for new support. The school district ranks among the worst in the county in student performance and is in financial straits. Welch has overseen that slide, having been a board member since 2001 and board president since 2003. As committeeman, Yarbrough is a powerful member of the Democratic organization and is in a position to help candidates secure campaign cash and voter support.
Welch would not comment on the meeting, or the possibility of an unlikely alliance.
“I’m not commenting on that,” Welch said prior to the Feb. 28 meeting. “I got invited and I’m going to attend.”
A Forest Park Review photographer attempting to cover the meeting was asked to leave.
Yarbrough has been extremely critical of Welch’s tenure in the school district and acknowledged grimacing each time someone asks her about the high schools. Her political base has been built in part by unifying people against Cook County Recorder of Deeds Eugene Moore, who is a longtime ally of Welch’s.
In 2006, Yarbrough trounced Welch in a bid to represent the 7th District as state representative.
As recently as February, Yarbrough’s father petitioned the school district to stop paying legal fees on Welch’s behalf. That petition was co-signed by three candidates running against Welch in the District 209 race.
Welch’s slate of incumbent running mates, Sue Henry, Dan Adams and Brian Cross, were also invited to speak with township Democrats. Both Cross and Henry are employed at the Recorder of Deeds office.
The Proviso Township Democratic Organization has said it will not endorse any of the school board candidates, but members are free to support whomever they choose.
Forest Park Commissioner Rory Hoskins is the president of the Democratic organization, and last week sent out an e-mail encouraging people to meet with Welch. Hoskins would not offer any direct answers to the Review about the meeting, and stayed away from commenting on the political relationship between Welch and Yarbrough.
“Some candidates have been invited in,” Hoskins said.
According to Hoskins, every candidate in the school board race has the same opportunity to address the Proviso Township Democratic Organization, but not everyone has been invited to do so. Other candidates have had to ask for an audience with the group, he said.
Della Patterson, a Maywood resident, is heading a slate of challengers to Welch’s ticket in District 209. According to Patterson, she was able to announce her candidacy to Hoskins’ organization after asking to do so.
“Maybe these people are coming together for the common good, but anything Chris is involved in is not good,” Patterson said.
Neither Hoskins nor Yarbrough would say definitively which school board candidates they might support.