Welch's past shows he's not to be trusted with Madigan investigation

Opinion: Columns

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Bill Dwyer

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Michael Madigan, who has ruled over Illinois politics with a combination of helping hand and iron fist for nearly half a century, is finally undergoing scrutiny that could end his career.

After it became known that a federal indictment of top Commonwealth Edison officials for alleged bribery refers to Madigan as "Individual A," the Illinois House formed a Special Investigating Committee to delve into his possible criminal conduct. 

Such formal scrutiny is long overdue. But similar scrutiny is also long overdue for Rep. Emanuel "Chris" Welch (D-Hillside), who was appointed to lead that investigation. 

Welch has shown a willingness to play fast and loose with the truth. A dyed-in-the-wool practitioner of patronage and crony politics, he's a natural born "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" politician.

I've reported on Welch at length for two newspapers, and I don't consider him an honest person. That's an opinion backed up by a Cook County judge's ruling, Welch's own public admission, and a host of available evidence.

Welch got his start in elective politics with key support from west-suburban power brokers, including Melrose Park Mayor Ron Serpico. Once he acquired power heading an elected board, Welch showed he was quite ready to help his friends and relished punishing his enemies.

In 2004, a federal civil jury found Serpico liable for $1 million in punitive damages and the Proviso District 209 high school board liable for $140,000 in the firing of D209 janitor Gino Trombetta, who sued after being fired because of his political opposition to Serpico in Melrose Park. The school district had absolutely no legal obligation to pay Serpico's settlement, since he was neither an elected D209 official or employee. But as D209 board president, Welch forced through a $1 million taxpayer-funded payment of his political patron's financial obligation.

A couple of years later, Welch launched a political website, Proviso Insider, which he used to attack — anonymously — political enemies and people critical of his poor management of D209's financial and educational affairs. It was pretty juvenile stuff, not befitting anyone who wanted to be taken seriously. 

His bullying worked until he made the mistake of smearing a couple of attorneys who did legal work for the school district. When the D209 board fired Burt Oldelson and Mark Sterk in 2007 over disputed legal fees, Welch turned on them. Referring to a federal investigation into another school board and a board member who was also a Melrose Park police officer, Welch suggested Mark Sterk had advised the cop on how to lie to a grand jury.

"Are Burt Odelson and Mark Sterk crooks?" he asked. "Will they be indicted next?"

Odelson and Sterk filed a libel/slander suit, and Welch lied about his involvement — until a forensic exam traced Welch's posts back to a computer at his law firm. 

Welch managed to get the D209 board to pay some $44,000 of his legal bills, and almost managed to ram through a $400,000 settlement payment from taxpayers, until a state-appointed financial oversight board (put in place because Welch had so utterly mismanaged the district's finances) vetoed the payment. 

As part of the eventual settlement he was forced to pay, Welch posted the following retraction on the Proviso Insider website: "The Subject Statements made on the Proviso Insider on July 12, 2007, July 19, 2007, August 27, 2007, and December 15, 2007 regarding Burton S. Odelson, Mark H. Sterk and Odelson & Sterk, Ltd. are hereby unconditionally and unequivocally retracted and the Proviso Insider regrets the publication of those statements on the blog which were made without factual basis."

If ever there is a biography of Welch, "Without Factual Basis" would be an apt title. 

Is this the sort of lawyer Democratic House leadership believes is fit to conduct an investigation into the Speaker of the Illinois House?

Perhaps it's time to hold more than just Madigan to account.

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Reader Comments

14 Comments - Add Your Comment

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Comment Policy

Joyce Siragusa  

Posted: January 14th, 2021 8:17 AM

This 'publication' has become nothing more than a platform for massive egos. Does not educate, inform or inspire. Enjoy yourselves.

Bill Maxwell  

Posted: January 13th, 2021 7:33 PM

William Dwyer Jr. I notice the Opinion piece was written by Bill Dwyer. Maybe you know him. If you know politics so well then explain sometime why neighborhoods like the Austin community no one ever digs in such as activists working with politicians to improve the community. You must know about the drugs brought into the Los Angeles area, who brought them in and what they were used for. I know it is unrelated although if you knew, that may help you understand why neighborhoods remain the same. I think you would be less naive if you learned more about actualities instead of chapter and verse of politics. History repeats itself because not many people care. If you knew or even researched Trump, you would have known a lot about what he promised and did not deliver in another part of the Country. Maybe you knowledge is more local and if it is, then learn History so you are not surprised. As you watch MSNBC, so you are not naive, they will bringing you what you want because they live off of advertising and their demographics includes you. I think I was naive to think you were really were as knowledgeable as I thought you were. I was wrong

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: January 13th, 2021 6:51 PM

Settle down, Maxwell. I said I could match you chapter and verse. And I can. I didn't say I know more than anyone here. . .. Now, reply in as large a stream of words as you feel the need use. I'm off to celebrate/drowning my sorrows in an MSNBC binge.

Bill Maxwell  

Posted: January 13th, 2021 6:12 PM

William Dwyer Jr. I am aware how you know more than anyone else on the comment board, regardless of how people have called you names. Reading your reply to Bruce Kline, I am really surprised how naive you really are about politicians. Really spend some time and go back in history and find how both sides are really the same

Bill Maxwell  

Posted: January 13th, 2021 6:05 PM

William Dwyer Jr. That is good you ignored part of history of corruption and just start at your starting point. Everything has a starting point, and you want to start in the middle which is fine. Seriously, you can not solve problems unless you know where they started. Mike Royko was always fun to read. He was a miserable drunk, although still fun to read. Some say it was moving to the suburbs that killed him

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: January 13th, 2021 5:37 PM

And Maxwell- I really do try to ignore your more pointless posts, but- really- ARRGH! . . .Paul Powell's shoe boxes were discovered more than 50 years ago. Perhaps we can keep it in this century? And Jim Thompson- who I made the mistake of voting for the first time- was Republican. I entered puberty reading Royko, and I can match you chapter and verse on Illinois corruption; but I won't. Let's stick with the past 20 years or so, OK?

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: January 13th, 2021 5:30 PM

Surprised that 50 House Democrats voted for him to be Speaker, Bruce? Because I thought they were collectively better than that. I was wrong. I guess I should have known better. Through countless hours of research, I know that a large minority if not a majority of House Dems have relied on Madigan to get elected the first time. Now I know how decent, principled Republicans feel about recent events in Washington. I feel like a man w/o a political home in Illinois.

Bill Maxwell  

Posted: January 13th, 2021 5:28 PM

Bruce Kline that had me laughing when you mentioned why William Dwyer Jr. was so surprised. Paul Powell, former Illinois Secretary of State after he died they found shoe boxes full of cash. Those were the day's of Federal investigations. There was Big Jim who instituted a hiring freeze for all state agencies, boards, bureaus, and commissions under his control as governor. It was later thrown out although certainly helped decide who was hired

Bruce Kline  

Posted: January 13th, 2021 4:57 PM

Mr. Welch's credentials - as William documents so nicely - are impeccable for the job at hand (keeping the whole corrupt Illinois enterprise afloat). My God William. Why are you surprised?

Bill Maxwell  

Posted: January 13th, 2021 2:43 PM

William Dwyer Jr. Read your Opinion piece and do not doubt your information. Madigan started during the first Daley, and now Welch has learned how to continue. Welch is not bringing up anything regarding Madigan's possible wrong doings

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: January 13th, 2021 2:02 PM

My God. Welch was elected Speaker of the House. Illinois House Democrats have no morals.

Nick A Binotti  

Posted: January 13th, 2021 11:13 AM

This might be the most prescient op-ed ever written.

Bill Maxwell  

Posted: January 11th, 2021 11:42 PM

To find things you start where you stand and work out in a circle. It won't be long before you find whatever you are looking for "In May, when Waukegan Mayor Robert Sabonjian hired his daughter as his administrative assistant, he relied on Chicago`s most famous politician to justify it: ''As Mayor Daley used to say, `What kind of father would I be if I didn`t take care of my own children?` '' Richard J. Daley`s actual remark back in 1973, when he gave city insurance business to a firm with ties to one of his sons, was a bit more direct: ''If I can`t help my sons, then they can kiss my - - - .'' https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1985-06-09-8502060239-story.html

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: January 11th, 2021 2:30 PM

The pile of crony political instances with Welch is so deep. I barely scratched the surface. This from NPR's Dan Mihalopoulos: ... Memos WBEZ obtained "show Madigan's office suggested to the first-term governor that he hire five people Welch had recommended, including Welch's wife. . Madigan's top aide also forwarded the resume of Welch's mother to two high-ranking staffers in Pritzker's office." "https://www.wbez.org/stories/how-michael-madigan-went-to-bat-for-scandal-inquiry-chairmans-wife-and-mother/bbcd2bc4-6dbd-497b-9527-30ceee7e4fed?utm_source=email&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=Web-Share

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