‘Proviso politics’ part of Illinois 7th District race
Johnson vs. Welch
How they size up
This is the second time that Emanuel “Chris” Welch has run for 7th District state representative, and it’s the first go for Beyonca Johnson.
Welch last ran in the 2006 primary, against Karen Yarbrough, who has held the seat since 2001. He received 26 percent of the vote in 2006.
Welch is a lawyer, and currently serves as the president of the Proviso District 209 school board.
Welch’s time on the school board has been controversial. Community members have accused him of having unilateral control over the school board and the district’s administration. Some are also upset that, under his watch, the district has spent millions on litigation when that money could have gone toward education. Two of Proviso’s schools (Proviso East and Proviso West) have failed to meet federal standards for several years now.
“The board votes how Chris votes,” Princess Dempsey, a Proviso resident who is also running to replace Yarbrough, said when discussing Welch’s power.
If elected, Welch said he intends to focus on education. He wants to find a way to make lower-income school districts less reliant on property taxes. Instead, he said he’d be in favor of using a revenue stream that combines sales tax and income tax dollars.
Johnson owns a credit repair business in Riverside. This is the first time she’s run for office.
Even though some of her campaign rhetoric has been focused on attacking Welch, she said her bid is not “a vendetta.”
Johnson said she is concerned with the lack of government accountability in the 7th District and in Proviso Township. If she goes to Springfield, she said she’ll focus on job creation, dealing with foreclosures and improving education.
Other candidates in the race include Forest Park Commissioner Rory Hoskins, Westchester resident Sherby Miller, and Princess Dempsey, a Proviso activist who heads a job creation agency.
Updated: March 19, 2012 1:59AM
As the March 20 primary nears, two candidates for 7th District state representative are at it again. Only this time it’s in the political arena and not in court.
The history between candidates Beyonca Johnson and Emanuel “Chris” Welch predates this election cycle by some four years and involves a stormy romance, a federal lawsuit alleging a litany of charges including sexual harassment and retaliatory discharge, and an emergency order of protection.
It began with a short romance between Welch and Johnson in 2008, when Johnson took a job as a superintendant’s assistant at Proviso Township High School District 209. Welch has served as school board president for the district since 2003 and has been on the board since 2001.
About two months after the relationship between Welch and Johnson ended, Johnson was fired after being employed for just eight months. She claims Welch orchestrated the firing to punish her for ending the relationship, but Welch denies that.
On March 22, 2010, Johnson filed a five-count federal lawsuit against the district and Welch, in which she sought at least $300,000.
The suit claims that when Johnson broke up with Welch -- something she claims to have done because he was allegedly seeing another District 209 employee at the same time -- he threatened to have her fired. According to the complaint, Welch told Johnson she could “kiss her job goodbye.”
The suit also accuses Welch of making “continual and repeated unwanted sexual advances” toward Johnson, even though she refused them.
What’s more, she argued that her contract had been breached and she had been wrongfully terminated because she was never given a written warning or due process before being fired.
A Freedom of Information Act request was filed with District 209 on Monday, requesting documents related to Johnson’s firing. The request is still pending.
According to Johnson and several court documents, Welch and his friends harassed her and her family after he learned of the lawsuit.
“We [myself and my family] started to receive harassing calls, visits, and Facebook messages,” Johnson said.
Johnson claims she was so alarmed that, on April 29, 2010, she sought and was granted an emergency order of protection against Welch in Cook County court.
When Johnson applied for the order of protection, she described the situation with Welch as such: “I have been subjected to threatening and explicit emails, phone calls, and visits. He [Welch] has created a false identity to contact me on Facebook and has been stalking me around my business and home. Chris [Welch] has sent unknown subjects to my residence to deliver packages and verbal messages.”
Johnson said one of the tipping points was when Welch allegedly asked his close friend, Ron Anderson, another District 209 employee, to send a messenger to Johnson’s Maywood home.
According to court documents, Henry Norris, Anderson’s brother, tried to deliver a copy of Johnson’s federal lawsuit to her then-fiancé. The motive was supposedly to expose the love affair between Johnson and Welch, which is mentioned in the suit.
The suit was eventually delivered to her then-fiancé, but Johnson claims that he already knew about her relationship with Welch, so it was merely an act of harassment.
“I did fear for my safety,” said Johnson, recalling the alleged events.
About a month after the order of protection was issued, another Cook County judge vacated it after Welch’s attorney filed a legal motion arguing that Johnson’s charges were trumped up.
Welch’s lawyer describes a different account of Welch’s relationship with Johnson.
For starters, Welch broke up with Johnson after he learned that she was living with her then-fiancé, the motion states.
From there, Welch’s attorney argued, Welch received a number of threatening text messages from Johnson (one in 2008, and three in 2010). This prompted Welch to file a report with the Hillside Police Department, a copy of which was included with the motion.
“If I get fired or demoted you’re getting your ass kicked and I’m going to the EEOC to tell them that you sexually harassed me!” one 2008 message supposedly read.
According to Welch’s lawyer, Johnson was demoted because of conflicts with District 209 Superintendent Nettie Collins-Hart. She was then fired for allegedly failing to show up to work without calling to explain the absence, the motion says.
The motion goes on to say that Welch didn’t hear from Johnson for nearly two years, until he was served with the federal complaint in 2010.
The motion also says that Welch had no idea Anderson was going to send his brother, Norris, to Johnson’s house. (Neither Anderson nor Norris were named as defendants in the federal lawsuit.)
In an unrelated matter last month, Anderson was caught checking the ballot signatures of one of Welch’s 7th District opponents while he was allegedly supposed to be working at District 209. A District 209 vehicle supposedly transported Anderson and the employees to the Cook County Clerk’s office in Chicago. Welch said the district would conduct an internal investigation into the matter last month.
What’s more, on Norris’ Twitter account, @boowhop15, there are several tweets that advocate for Welch’s candidacy.
As for the order of protection, Welch said he was “stunned” when he received it. He denied ever threatening Johnson, and said he has no idea what prompted her to seek the order of protection.
“I’ve done nothing to her,” he said. “I was shocked.”
Welch’s lawyer also said that the order of protection was baseless because Johnson didn’t fear for her safety. That is, she attended a District 209 school board meeting with several large men to deliver a copy of the lawsuit to Welch after the order of protection had been taken out, Welch’s lawyer wrote in his motion.
Johnson could not explain why she did this.
In the end, Johnson dropped the lawsuit against the district and Welch. She said there were “issues” with her attorney and that she couldn’t afford the legal bills.
“People may assume I’m running as a personal vendetta and I’m not,” she said.
Because Welch did not return phone calls from Forest Leaves, the newspaper had to ask him about the incident after an Independent Voters of Illinois Precinct Organization endorsement interview last weekend.
Before he hung up the phone with the IVI IPO, Welch told its members, “I’m sorry the ugly head of Proviso politics had to rear its head into this.”