Rep. Emanuel ‘Chris’ Welch, a leading contender to succeed Speaker Madigan, faces questions about his treatment of women

Ray Long and Megan Crepeau, Chicago Tribune

Two years ago, Democratic Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan was rocked by a #MeToo scandal that caused him to cut loose several trusted political operatives, including his chief of staff.

Now one of the leading candidates to replace the embattled Madigan as speaker, Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, is facing questions about his treatment of women.

A 2002 police report indicates that Hillside officers were called to Welch’s home and an ex-girlfriend told them that Welch slammed her head into a kitchen countertop numerous times after she called him “a loser.” The woman did not press charges after talking it over with a relative of Welch’s, the report states.

Welch also faced a 2010 federal lawsuit for sexual harassment and retaliation in which a different woman alleged she lost her job at Proviso Township High School District High School because she broke up with him while he was president of the school board. Records show settlement talks had started in the wrongful termination case when a motion was filed to dismiss the matter.

Welch, a Madigan ally, referred questions to a spokesperson, who issued a statement.

“This verbal argument occurred nearly two decades ago,” Welch said. “I will be honest that I have reconciled with the individual since that night.”

Welch also sought to blame Republicans for the questions about his past. “At no other occasion have these events been brought up and I firmly believe my Republican colleagues are threatened by the potential growth of my profile,” he wrote.

Madigan, facing a Commonwealth Edison bribery scandal in which a longtime top confidant has been indicted, said Monday that he was suspending his campaign for speaker after falling nine votes short of the 60 he needed to win another two years running the House. Madigan did not withdraw, however, and a source indicated he’s waiting to see how the contest to succeed him plays out.

Welch then announced he was running for speaker and was quickly endorsed late Monday by the Illinois Black Legislative Caucus, gaining him support of its 22 members.

On Tuesday, Welch’s bid for speaker drew criticism from a whistleblower at the center of a high-profile sexual harassment case involving Madigan’s political operation.

“How does our state go through a #MeToo scandal that lasted two years and the solution to replacing Michael Madigan is with a person” written up in a police report over allegations of domestic violence? asked Alaina Hampton, who called out a Madigan operative in 2018 over sexual harassment.

Hampton, once a campaign worker for Madigan, reached a settlement with Madigan’s political committees in a case where she alleged she was blackballed from the speaker’s organization in retaliation for reporting harassment by Kevin Quinn, the brother of Ald. Marty Quinn, who represents the speaker’s 13th Ward power base.

Welch chairs the powerful House Executive Committee and chaired a special investigating panel to look into Madigan and the ComEd bribery allegations that adjourned with no action.

House Republican leader Jim Durkin called Welch “an extension of Mike Madigan.

“We’ve gotta break from the past,” said Durkin, of Western Springs. “And trust me, Mike Madigan is going to do everything he can to make sure he passes that baton off to somebody that’s going to continue the business model of Madigan Inc.”

A Jan. 12, 2002, Hillside police report said officers responded to a call from a woman at Welch’s home.

The woman told police she and Welch had broken up and she was there to pick up some of her belongings, the report said. The two had a verbal argument during which she said she was “no longer in a relationship” with him and called him a “loser,” according to the report.

“At that point, Welch became enraged and grabbed her hair with both hands while in the kitchen and proceeded to slam her head backwards numerous times on the counter top,” the police report states.

When he let her go, she tried to leave, but Welch blocked her from going through the front or back doors, according to the police report.

“Now being extremely scared because of his actions, she ran again to the back door and began to scream for help, running around the home,” said the report, which the Tribune obtained through an open records request.

The woman said she was able to grab a phone and call police, the report said.

She at first told police that she wanted Welch charged with domestic battery and unlawful restraint. Welch had been given his Miranda rights and taken into custody, police said. But she declined to pursue charges after she talked to a relative of Welch’s, the report said.

Welch told police the woman had come to his house to pick up some belongings as they were breaking up. He told police he started putting items next to her car when she began pulling at his arm. The police report is partially redacted but indicated a person “began crying over their break-up and shortly after called the police.”

The report said Welch “denied ever grabbing (the woman) by the hair and striking her head.”

A few days later, the woman reported a bruise on her arm, police said. The woman’s name was redacted from police documents.

In his statement, Welch said, that, “after our dispute, we sought out the authorities ourselves.”

“Their family lives in my district and are proud supporters of my public service and work. However, I must convey my dismay over the lack of decency displayed by the GOP politicians and their urge to use this report against me,” the statement read.

The statement did not address the federal lawsuit dealing with Proviso Township schools.

In that matter, Beyonca Johnson sued Welch along with other Proviso district officials in 2010, alleging she was wrongfully fired after complaining about Welch’s unwanted sexual advances toward her.

Welch and Johnson dated for about six months in 2008, when Welch was president of the Proviso Township school board and Johnson was an administrative assistant for the superintendent, according to court records.

When Johnson broke up with Welch, he told her “she could kiss her job goodby (sic),” according to the suit, and he allegedly continued sexually harassing her for three months before she was fired.

The suit, filed in federal court, was short-lived. Records indicate both sides began settlement talks two months after it was filed. Johnson moved to dismiss the case shortly afterward.

Johnson went on to run against Welch in the 2012 Democratic primary for state representative. She finished third in a contest Welch won by 36 votes. Welch, an attorney at Ancel Glink, went on to win the fall general election and has served in the Illinois House ever since.

Chicago Tribune’s Rick Pearson contributed from Springfield.