By Jean Lotus, Editor, The Forest Park Review
The Maywood insurance agent who filed to run against Emanuel “Chris” Welch in the 7th District primary March 18 has had her petitions challenged at the Cook County Board of Elections. Daphene Walker of Bellwood challenged the petitions of Antoinette “Toni” Gray Dec. 2. Walker also challenged petitions of Republican candidate Mark Salisipan, of Maywood. Gray turned in 1,150 signatures to the Cook County Board Clerk’s Office, Dec. 2, more than twice the 500 signature requirement, she said.
Gray stopped in Forest Park for a fundraiser at Fat Duck, Dec. 8.
“Our district faces a lot of challenges,” Gray said at the fundraiser. “We have become stagnant and grid-locked,” she said.
Gray said her platform was based on improving four areas of the community: Education, housing, public safety and economic development.
“Those four things are interlocking components,” Gray said. “If you don’t have public safety, you won’t have good housing, families won’t feel safe to move in and you won’t have good education, and it will drive away economic development.”
She said her experience working as Housing Director of not-for-profit Christian Community Development Corporation in Detroit taught her how to write grants to collect not only state dollars for housing development, but also private grants.
“We worked in the poorest ZIP code in Michigan, rehabbing historic homes in the Boston/Edison neighborhood, greenscaping abandoned lots, holding homebuyer education and foreclosure prevention education.”
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While she acknowledged Welch was an incumbent, she thinks he’s beatable.
“My opponent had a lot of money and he won by 36 votes,” she said. “I believe this is the year to beat him.”
Welch won a four-way primary in March 2012 against Forest Park Commissioner Rory Hoskins, former Proviso Township High School District employee Beyonca Johnson and Broadview resident Princess Dempsey.
Welch, who received significant donations from various unions, voted for pension reform legislation opposed by many unions that passed last week in Springfield. The issue is a touchy one in a district with a large number of union employees. State Senator Kimberly Lightford voted no.
In a press release about the vote Welch said, “For those of you who are disappointed, I do understand.”
“If voters decide they want another person representing them in Springfield because of my vote on this issue, I will accept that,” Welch said in the release. “That is why we are representatives of the people,” he added.
Gray said Dec. 8 she would have voted “no” on pension reform because of the number of union families living in the district. However, she said she saw a need for something to be done to fix the pension problem that was dragging the state credit rating lower and lower.
Gray is an insurance agent for Farmers Insurance who grew up in Maywood. She attended Proviso East High School, then Olivet College in Michigan. She earned a JD from Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing, Mich. and taught criminal justice on the college level. She is currently working on a Ph. D in educational leadership, from Western Michigan University, she said.
When asked why, with her background in education she didn’t run for the District 209 school board, she said she thought her skills in criminal justice, education, housing, grant writing and small business would make her more effective in the state legislature.
The event on a cold snowy night, was sparsely attended mostly by family and friends. Forest Park Elementary School District President Frank Mott made an appearance. Gray is working with former Maywood Village Trustee Eric Stith as campaign consultant.
“The 7th District is very diverse economically and racially, from LaGrange Park and North Riverside to Maywood, Forest Park and River Forest and the rest of Proviso Township,” she said. “I want to make sure I listen to residents to find out how I can best represent them in Springfield.”
“My platform will be shaped by the needs of the communities I serve, based on conversations we have in those communities.” VFP