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State House: Old lawsuit surfaces in 7th District race

Emmanuel 'Chris' Welch speaks during candidate forum hosted by Proviso Township River Forest Democratic Committies Jan. 5 2012 Sheet Metal

Emmanuel "Chris" Welch speaks during a candidate forum hosted by the Proviso Township and River Forest Democratic Committies on Jan. 5, 2012, at the Sheet Metal Workers Lodge No. 73 in Hillside. Welch is running for the 7th District State Representative in the Democratic primary. | Rob Hart~Sun-Times Media

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Candidate questionnaires: Illinois House District 7, Democrats
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Updated: March 23, 2012 8:12AM

The race to succeed State Rep. Karen Yarbrough is shaping up to be a pricey, high-profile race replete with the airing of old accusations of sexual harassment and defamation.

Four Democrats are competing in the House primary to represent the 7th District covering the west suburbs, spanning from River Forest to Maywood, Westchester and Hillside. The recently redrawn map strips away a sliver of Chicago and Oak Park and adds more west suburban areas.

Karen Yarbrough, state rep since 2001, is running unopposed for Cook County Recorder of deeds in the March 20 primary.

Candidate Emanuel “Chris” Welch of Hillside is drawing the most attention, racking up a long list of endorsements and a campaign war chest approaching $100,0000. A lawyer and president of the Proviso high schools district board of education since 2003, Welch is endorsed by seven mayors of Proviso Township, which spans much of the district, the major unions, Equality Illinois (one of two candidates the group is endorsing), Personal PAC and others.

Welch is also in the spotlight because of his history with one opponent, Beyonca Johnson. The two dated briefly in 2008 while she was employed by the school district, leading to an accusation by Johnson that Welch had sexually harassed her and orchestrated her dismissal. She sued Welch and the school board and also sought an order of protection against him. Soon after, a judge dropped the order of protection and ultimately Johnson dropped the suit. She told the Forest Leaves local paper that she couldn’t afford the legal bills.

Welch strenuously denies the allegations, telling the Sun-Times that the rehash of these charges is “all political.” Welch is also being sued by the board’s former law firm for defamation over a blog post written by Welch.

The money spent by the board to defend Welch has come up in the campaign. School boards are regularly sued, Welch says, and a legal defense “is something all board members are afforded.” The school district has struggling financially and in 2008 asked the state to monitor its finances, just one of just three districts in Illinois to have a financial oversight panel. The oversight continues today.

Welch’s legal career is built around representing local school districts, and the 41-year-old cites eliminating “inequities in education” as a top priority. As accomplishments, he cites four years of balanced school district budgets, the first time in over a decade, and the creation of a new magnet high school.

Forest Park Commissioner Rory Hoskins, who has raised just a fraction of Welch’s haul, is urging residents to look beyond Welch’s robocalls and yard signs and evaluate each candidate’s skills and accomplishments.

Hoskins, 40, says the range of his professional experience set him apart. A social worker and currently a full-time law student, Hoskins spent six years working for the Ill. Dept. of Commerce and Economic Development. He then moved to the private sector to work for KPMG as a state and local tax consultant, advising companies on tax incentives offered by different states.

Hoskins is endorsed by U.S. Rep Danny Davis, the IVI-IPO, Maywood Mayor Henderson Yarbrough Sr. — and husband of Karen Yarbrough — Equality Illinios (the second candidate endorsed by the group) and a slew of individual trustees and commissioners in the western suburbs.

“As an elected official, all you have to run is your record,” Hoskins told the Sun-Times. “If you have a good one, I think people take that into account....I don’t think anyone has really questioned my integrity.”

Johnson, 31, lives in Maywood, owns a credit repair company and has never run for public office. Johnson told Forest Leaves that her run is not “a vendetta” against Welch. Instead, she wrote in the Sun-Times questionnaire, she is running to “show people that government can make a difference in their lives.”

Princess Dempsey, 44, lives in Broadview and runs a secretarial temp agency. She ran for the seat in 2010 and is on the school board in Broadview.

All four candidates oppose changing pension benefits for current state employees, with Welch arguing that shifting to a progressive income tax will solve most of the state’s financial problems. He favors borrowing in the short-term to reduce the state’s pension obligations and to pay back bills owed to state vendors.

“One thing we need to do is increase our revenue” said Welch, who is running for the seat a second time. “Illinois is only one of seven states to have a flat tax. It’s not rocket science, that’s the problem.”

All but Dempsey support extending the recently-passed 67 percent income tax increase beyond 2014 if unemployment is still high. Dempsey wants it repealed. Hoskins is a strong supporter of targeted tax incentives to draw businesses to Illinois and a broader-based corporate income tax.

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