Illinois Daily Press
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Cook dinner County Clerk Karen Yarbrough dies at 73



Cook dinner County Clerk Karen Yarbrough, a fixture in state and native Democratic Get together politics who efficiently championed laws to ban the dying penalty in Illinois, died Sunday. She was 73.

For many years, Yarbrough and her husband, Henderson, had been political mainstays in west suburban Maywood, the place he beforehand served as mayor, and Proviso Township. She represented the world for years within the Illinois Home, ultimately serving on then-Speaker Michael Madigan’s management crew.

Her alliance with Madigan, a longtime Illinois Democratic Get together chair, accompanied her rise in state and native Democratic events and continued by her profitable runs first for Cook dinner County’s recorder of deeds after which county clerk. Yarbrough was elected in 2018 because the county’s first African-American and feminine clerk.

A spokesperson for the county clerk’s workplace introduced on April 2 that Yarbrough was hospitalized with a “critical medical situation,” and confirmed her dying Sunday night.

Tributes from colleagues poured in Sunday, describing Yarbrough as a devoted public servant who fought for veterans, householders and civil rights. In a launch, Mayor Brandon Johnson known as her “each a pioneer and a tireless legislator, dedicated to social and financial justice all through a long time of public service. Her ardour for guaranteeing that communities expertise the complete help of their governing our bodies and profit from the fruits of our democracy will really be missed, as will her radiant smile.”

Cook dinner County Commissioner Stanley Moore met Yarbrough in Springfield when he was a finances analyst.

Later on the county, they labored collectively on a program to file army service information without cost, and the 2 “would host property after dying seminars all around the county instructing individuals to guard their most dear belongings,” Moore stated in a written assertion to the Tribune. “She will likely be really missed.”

Yarbrough was a local of Washington, D.C. Her household got here to Maywood within the early Nineteen Sixties. She studied enterprise administration at Chicago State College and obtained her grasp’s in Inside Metropolis Research from Northeastern Illinois College.

She grew to become a licensed actual property dealer and based Hathaway Insurance coverage Company in Maywood in 1975. It adopted a path charted by her father, the late Don Williams Sr., who established the primary African-American-owned pharmacy within the village within the Nineteen Sixties and branched out into residence constructing, actual property and insurance coverage, in line with his Tribune obituary.

Williams, who was lively within the native NAACP and a up to date of activist Fred Hampton, was elected to 1 time period as mayor of Maywood, and headed up its chamber of commerce. Yarbrough herself later led the chamber beginning in 1993.

She first ran for the Home in 1998 towards incumbent Rep. Eugene Moore however misplaced by 544 votes in a four-way major. In 2000, after Moore left the legislature to grow to be recorder of deeds, Yarbrough received the seat.

Yarbrough and Moore typically clashed. She misplaced to him in a 2002 race for Proviso Township Democratic committeeman however beat him 4 years later. When Moore retired as recorder, Yarbrough succeeded him within the county put up and left the Home place she held for greater than a decade.

Her most high-profile accomplishments in Springfield included efficiently engaged on laws to make Illinois the twenty second state to ban indoor smoking in 2008, however she additionally secured cash for primary native initiatives starting from repaving a library car parking zone to redoing native alleyways and streetscapes.

Yarbrough garnered her largest accolades for her Home sponsorship of the ban on executions in Illinois, culminating within the dramatic passage of the laws on the second of two votes taken throughout one of many closing days of a lame-duck session in January 2011.

After the invoice fell brief by one vote within the first spherical, Yarbrough introduced it again a second time and handed the historic measure. It was the primary time a dying penalty ban handed the Home since executions had been reinstated in Illinois in 1977. The proposed ban was closely criticized by some lawmakers and prosecutors who argued violent criminals may homicide a number of victims with out worry of being killed themselves.

The measure shortly handed the Senate, and Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn signed the invoice in a non-public ceremony in his Capitol workplace with Yarbrough and then-Sen. Kwame Raoul, now the lawyer basic, trying on with different supporters.

The approval got here greater than a decade after Republican Gov. George Ryan unilaterally positioned a moratorium on the dying penalty following revelations that a number of individuals despatched to dying row weren’t responsible.

As soon as a supporter of capital punishment, Yarbrough later stated the exonerations served as a “painful and stirring reminder that dying is an absolute penalty. As soon as imposed, there isn’t a second likelihood, no reversal and no option to right a mistake.”

Home Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch shared his condolences in a social media put up. “Serving our west suburban group collectively for greater than twenty years, I used to be fortunate sufficient to see her generosity, kindness, and the best way she fiercely liked her household and pals, too,” Welch stated. “Our whole group mourns this loss and Karen will likely be deeply missed, however I do know her spirit will all the time stay a guiding drive.”

“She’s acquired a robust legacy in Springfield,” State Rep. LaShawn Ford, a Chicago Democrat from the West Aspect who served with Yarbrough within the Illinois Home, advised the Tribune Sunday.

Ford admired Yarbrough’s “love for household” and the way she and her husband caught collectively as a political energy couple for thus lengthy. The partnership served as a robust instance for the Black group, he stated. “Karen Yarbrough and her husband truly confirmed us about tips on how to be a pair within the Black group and tips on how to love each other and be sturdy collectively by lots of adversity.”

He additionally famous her loyalty to native Democrats and the way she labored her approach as much as be influential inside the occasion. Yarbrough served each on the state’s central committee and was the Cook dinner County Democratic Get together’s treasurer.

“She’s an enormous in Cook dinner County and in Illinois,” stated Ford. “I believe, many occasions, individuals don’t perceive simply your worth till you’re gone. Folks will now see her worth to the Democratic Get together.”

State Rep. Will Davis, a Democrat from south suburban Homewood who additionally served with Yarbrough within the Home, known as Yarbrough “a robust advocate, significantly for the African-American group.”

“Actually being in Springfield together with her, she was all the time agency, she was all the time fierce, she was all the time decisive,” stated Davis, who has served within the Home since 2003. “She knew precisely what she wished to perform.”

When Yarbrough received the recorder’s workplace in 2012, she inherited a federal court docket anti-patronage monitor ordered to supervise the workplace below Moore’s tenure, however she couldn’t shake it throughout her time in that workplace.

For years, reformers pushed for the recorder’s workplace, which oversees land transactions, to be mixed with the clerk’s workplace, which oversees suburban voting and information like beginning certificates, and voters accredited the merger in 2016.

Regardless of her early opposition to consolidation, Yarbrough acquired on board when elected clerk.

Former Cook dinner County Commissioner Ed Moody, then an in depth Madigan affiliate who now’s anticipated to testify within the ex-speaker’s upcoming federal corruption trial, was appointed as interim recorder till the merger was full.

In an announcement, Moody described that merger as successful, and stated Yarbrough’s efforts “have and can proceed save the Cook dinner County Tax Payers thousands and thousands of {dollars}.”

Yarbrough sprinkled her places of work with Madigan allies, and served as interim chair of the state Democratic Get together when Madigan misplaced his speakership and gave up the occasion put up amid a burgeoning ComEd lobbying scandal in 2021.

As county clerk, she as soon as was accused of “working an unlawful patronage operation” by Michael Shakman, the lawyer whose lawsuit filed half a century in the past towards Democratic machine politics led to a sequence of anti-patronage decrees and ultimately federal screens overseeing a number of places of work, together with hers.

Regardless of continuously being dinged over defying greatest employment practices, Yarbrough persistently denied the allegations and ultimately took benefit of a federal appellate court docket choice that lifted the oversight of Illinois authorities.

Because of this, Yarbrough’s county clerk’s workplace, the final public workplace below a federal monitor, was capable of finish the Shakman case first launched to battle the cussed and unfair use of Democratic politics to determine most hiring, firing and promotion in state and native authorities.

A federal choose formally launched her from that oversight final yr regardless of some reservations from watchdogs that she hadn’t absolutely addressed problematic personnel practices.

Yarbrough briefly thought-about a run for secretary of state in 2021 when Jesse White introduced he wouldn’t search re-election.

She in the end determined towards working statewide, partly, as a result of her husband, Henderson, was being handled for prostate most cancers.

“He’s my rock,” the county clerk stated of her partner, in line with the Solar-Occasions. “There’s nothing I’ve carried out up to now 30 years that he hasn’t been by my aspect for. He’s quiet, soft-spoken, however he’s acquired lots of knowledge — particularly because it pertains to this tough and tumble enterprise I’m in — and he’s the top of our household.”

Yarbrough had a novel means to bridge racial divides, Cook dinner County Treasurer Maria Pappas stated in a launch. “We had been soul sisters and gossip buddies. She is irreplaceable in politics as a result of she represented kindness and compassion,” Pappas stated. “She by no means had two tales. It’s a completely completely different ball sport in the present day. Karen had an innate, God-given expertise of compassion that may’t be taught. She was born with a present of kindness. I don’t know who within the Democratic occasion is that gifted. I’ll miss my locker buddy throughout the corridor.”

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