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Mark Kirk

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For the American art director, see Mark-Lee Kirk.
Mark Kirk
Senator Mark Kirk official portrait.jpg
United States Senator
from Illinois
Assumed office
November 29, 2010
Serving with Dick Durbin
Preceded by Roland Burris
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 10th district
In office
January 3, 2001 – November 29, 2010
Preceded by John Porter
Succeeded by Robert Dold
Personal details
Born Mark Steven Kirk
(1959-09-15) September 15, 1959 (age 56)
Champaign, Illinois, U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Kimberly Vertolli (2001–2009)
Alma mater Blackburn College
Cornell University
London School of Economics
Georgetown University
Religion United Church of Christ[1]
Website Senate website
Military service
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch  United States Navy
Years of service 1989–2013
Rank US-O5 insignia.svg Commander
Unit Naval Intelligence
Battles/wars Operation Northern Watch

Mark Steven Kirk (born September 15, 1959) is the junior United States Senator from Illinois and a member of the Republican Party. Previously, Kirk was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Illinois's 10th congressional district.

Born in Champaign, Illinois, he graduated from Cornell University, the London School of Economics, and Georgetown University Law Center. He practiced law throughout the 1980s and 1990s. He joined the United States Navy Reserve as a Direct Commission Officer in the Intelligence career field in 1989 and was recalled to active duty for the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. He participated in Operation Northern Watch in Iraq the following year. He attained the rank of Commander and retired from the Navy Reserve in 2013.[2]

Kirk was elected to the House in 2000. During his fifth term in November 2010 he won two concurrent elections: to finish the final months of former Senator Barack Obama's term and to serve the next six-year term. He was sworn in on November 29, 2010, and began a six-year Senate term in January 2011.[3] In January 2012, Kirk suffered a stroke,[4] and a full year passed before he returned to his congressional duties.[5]

Early life and education

Photo US Senator Mark Kirk.
US Senator Mark Kirk as president of Seal and Serpent in 1981.

Kirk was born in Champaign, Illinois, the son of Judith Ann (Brady) and Francis Gabriel "Frank" Kirk.[6][7][8] After graduating from New Trier East High School in 1977 he attended Blackburn College in Carlinville, Illinois for two years, before transferring to Cornell University, where he graduated cum laude with a B.A. in History.[9] While at Cornell University, Kirk served as the president of the Seal and Serpent social fraternity there.[10] Kirk later obtained a master's degree from the London School of Economics and a Juris Doctor (J.D.) from Georgetown University Law Center.[11][12]

Early career

While Kirk was an undergraduate student at Cornell University he held a work–study job supervising a play group at the Forest Home Chapel nursery school. After getting his master's degree, Kirk taught for one year at a private school in London.[13][14] He later stated in speeches and interviews that he had been a nursery and middle school teacher. However a leader at the church which housed the nursery school has expressed her belief that Kirk overstated his role there.[13] In discussing problems in the educational system early in his congressional career, Kirk addressed the brevity of his teaching career: “I did leave the teaching profession, but if we had addressed some of the teacher development issues, which I want to raise with you, I might have stayed.”[13][15]

After college, Kirk worked in Congressman John Porter's office, ultimately becoming chief of staff. After leaving Capitol Hill in 1990, he worked at the World Bank and as an aide at the State Department on the Central American peace process. He spent two years practicing international law and four years as counsel to the House International Relations Committee.[16]

Military service

Kirk was commissioned as an intelligence officer in the United States Navy Reserve in 1989.[12]

In 1999 Kirk was recalled to active duty in Operation Allied Force for the bombing of Yugoslavia. He served from to April 10 to June 6, 1999 as the intelligence officer of VAQ-209.[17] VAQ-209 was combined with three other EA-6B squadrons to form an ad hoc unit called Electronic Attack Wing Aviano, Italy. VAQ-140 had tactical command of the combined unit.[18] In May 2000, the National Military Intelligence Association bestowed the organization's Vice Admiral Rufus L. Taylor Award to Intelligence Division Electronic Attack Wing Aviano, Italy.[19]

In March and April 2000 Kirk trained with an EC-130 squadron based in Turkey. Kirk took a flight over Iraq as part of Operation Northern Watch, which enforced a no-fly zone over the northern section of Iraq.[20]

Kirk has served three, two-week reserve deployments in Afghanistan, with the latest concluding in September 2011.[21]

Kirk retired from the Navy Reserve in May 2013, after 23 years of service.[2] A formal military retirement ceremony was held for Kirk in December 2014.[2]


During his military career, Kirk was awarded the following medals: the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, Navy Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal, and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, as well as the Joint Meritorious Unit Award, the Navy Unit Commendation, and the Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation. He continues his service in the United States Navy Reserve holding the rank of Commander.[22]

Kirk corrected claims he had made about being awarded "Navy Intelligence Officer of the Year" after it was brought to the media's attention by his Democratic opponent, Alexi Giannoulias.[23] In a 2002 House committee hearing recorded by C-SPAN, Kirk said, "I was the Navy's Intelligence Officer of the Year", an achievement he said gave him special qualifications to discuss national security spending.[22] However, in May 2010, the Washington Post reported that Kirk's claim to having been named the Navy's “Intelligence Officer of the Year” was erroneous.[24] The National Military Intelligence Association gave the Vice Admiral Rufus L. Taylor Award to the entire Intelligence Division Electronic Attack Wing at Aviano.[22] Kirk was the lead intelligence officer for VAQ-209, one of the four squadrons assigned to the Electronic Attack Wing. VAQ-140 had tactical command.[18] Kirk later apologized for this and other errors, including a claim made by his office of having participated in Operation Desert Storm when in fact he did not.[25]

On June 7, 2010, Medal of Honor recipient and advocate of Veteran's benefits, Allen Lynch, deemed Mark Kirk's apologies adequate, and further commented: “To me, in my opinion, it's just a bunch of nit picking. Plus, he's done a christ ton for veterans. So I think this is being blown way out of proportion".[26]

Service under fire

In a speech on the floor of the House in 2003, Kirk stated: “The last time I was in Iraq I was in uniform, flying at 20,000 feet, and the Iraqi Air Defense network was shooting at us”. Kirk has since clarified his statement, indicating that there is no record of his aircraft being fired upon.[27] “I simply misremembered [sic] it wrong”, he told the Chicago Sun-Times, referring to his military record.[28]

Military politicking

On December 18, 2009, Undersecretary of Defense Gail H. McGinn noted in a memo that Kirk had on two previous active duty periods engaged in politicking—violation of military policy by participating in political activities while on active duty, per Department of Defense regulations. On one occasion Kirk commented on Rod Blagojevich's arrest and posted a tweet while on duty with the Navy in Afghanistan.[29] According to the Pentagon, Kirk was required to sign a statement acknowledging he knew the rules before returning to active duty.[29]

Early political career

Kirk worked on the staff of John Porter, the former holder of Illinois’s 10th congressional district. From 1991 to 1993, Kirk was the Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of State in the U.S. State Department. Kirk was an attorney for Baker & McKenzie from 1993 to 1995. In 1995 Kirk was named as a counsel to the House International Relations Committee. He remained counsel to the House International Relations Committee until 1999.[12]

U.S. House of Representatives

Kirk as a Congressman.


Kirk was originally elected in 2000 with 51%. He won re-election with comfortable margins in 2002 and 2004. He defeated Dan Seals by a five point margin in 2006, and defeated him again by the same margin in a rematch in 2008.[30]


During his time in the House, Kirk compiled a centrist voting record, voting more liberal on social issues and more conservative on foreign policy issues.[16] Kirk was a member of the House Iran Working Group, the founder and co-chair of the House U.S.-China Working Group,[31] the co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues,[12] the co-chair of the Albanian Issues Caucus in ex Yugoslavia,[32] and a member of the GOP Tuesday Group.[33] During his House tenure, he was a member of the House Appropriations Committee.[34]

Kirk was responsible for an amendment in 2004, which requires the Congressional Budget Office to annually publish a comparison of projected spending on entitlements with actual spending for the previous year.[16] He also fought against spending on the Alaska "bridge to nowhere" and pushed for reforms in the intelligence community.[16]

In 2005, Kirk stated that he was not opposed to the immigration process in the United States discriminating against young Arab males from "terrorist-producing states". He stated, "I think that when we look at the threat that’s out there, young men between, say, the ages of 18 and 25 from a couple of countries, I believe a certain amount of intense scrutiny should be placed on them."[35]

In 2006, Kirk pushed for an expansion of O'Hare and worked with Rahm Emmanuel on a package to clean up Lake Michigan.[16]

In June 2008, Kirk introduced H.R. 6257 to reinstate the assault weapons ban of 1994. The bill was co-sponsored by fellow Republicans: Michael Castle, Mike Ferguson, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and Chris Shays.[36] Four years earlier, in February 2004, Kirk had been among 11 Republican and 129 Democrat co-sponsors of H.R. 3831 to reauthorize the ban.[37] Both bills died in committee.

In 2011, Kirk voted for the Waxman-Markey "Cap-and-Trade" bill.[38][39]

United States Senate

2010 election

On July 20, 2009, Kirk announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate election for the seat held by Roland Burris, which had been held by Barack Obama before his election as president. On February 2, 2010, Kirk won the Republican primary with 56.6 percent of the vote; no other candidate had as much as 20 percent.[40] He ran against Democratic nominee Alexi Giannoulias, Green Party nominee LeAlan Jones, and Libertarian nominee Mike Labno. During the Illinois U.S. Senate election campaign in 2010, Kirk and Giannoulias were in a hotly contested debate. Kirk defeated Giannoulias in the election for the full six-year term, getting 48% to Giannoulias's 46%. Kirk changed his position on Cap and Trade legislation during the campaign saying he voted for it "because it was in the narrow interests of my Congressional district", but that as a representative of the entire state of Illinois, "I will vote No on that bill”.[41]

In 2012, Kirk was accused of concealing his payment of $143,000 to a former girlfriend, Dodie McCracken, who worked on his 2010 Senatorial campaign.[42]

2016 election

In June 2013, Kirk confirmed that he was "planning" to run for re-election,[43][44] but there was speculation that he might retire,[45] particularly in the wake of the departure of several of his senior staff.[46][47] He could also face a primary challenge from a more conservative Republican, like talk radio host and former U.S. Representative Joe Walsh.[48] In November 2014, Kirk reiterated that he was going to run for re-election, saying: "no frickin' way am I retiring."[49]


Kirk was sworn-in on November 29, 2010, as the junior Senator from Illinois.[50] Kirk sat at at the Senate's coveted Candy Desk for several years.[51]

He was one of only two Republicans to oppose legislation to detain American citizens indefinitely.[52]

Infrastructure advocacy

In his first year in the Senate, Kirk worked along with U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D–IL) to help mediate a dispute between airlines serving O'Hare International Airport and the City of Chicago in order to Keep the O'Hare Modernization project on Schedule.[53] It is estimated the project would create 200,000 jobs and add $18 billion to the regional economy when completed.[54]

Kirk and Durbin also worked together to bring $186 million in federal funds to support improved rail service from Chicago to St. Louis. The money was originally rejected by the state of Florida but reallocated to Illinois.[55]

Kirk authored legislation, entitled the Lincoln Legacy Infrastructure Development Act, that sought to eliminate barriers and encourage private investment in roads, transit, airport and rail.[56] Several of the provisions in the legislation would later become law under the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (P.L. 112-114), including provisions to eliminate barriers to public-private partnerships for public transportation projects and a boost for the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFA) program.[57]

Environmental protections for the Great Lakes

Along with then-Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), Kirk co-chairs the Senate's Great Lakes Task Force, and on June 26, 2013, the two introduced the Great Lakes Ecological and Economic Protection Act (GLEEPA). This legislation authorizes more funds to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in their efforts to restore wetlands, control invasive species, and regulate dumping of sewage and other industrial byproducts into the Great Lakes watershed. It also re-authorizes the Environmental Protection Agency's Great Lakes national Program Office and Great Lakes Legacy Act, which addresses dumping of toxic waste.[58] Kirk has introduced similar legislation in the past,[59] and Kirk has been a longstanding supporter of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' efforts to keep invasive Asian Carp out of the Great Lakes ecosystem.

Illinois debt crisis

Kirk appointed a sovereign debt advisory board to help research the unfunded obligations and unpaid bills contributing to Illinois' debt crisis. He later produced a Report on Illinois Debt highlighting the unsustainable debt the state continued to hold and the need for pension reform.[60] Kirk introduced legislation entitled No State Bailouts, S. Res. 188, along with 14 other U.S. Senators, which would ban federal bailouts of financially struggling states. Illinois State Treasurer Dan Rutherford endorsed the legislation.[61]

Anti-corruption work

Kirk and Representative Robert Dold (R–IL-10) introduced bipartisan legislation to expand qualifications for ending federal pension payouts to elected officials convicted of corruption. The bicameral provision expanded current law to include an additional 22 crimes, and the bill was included in the STOCK Act signed by the President in April 2012.[62]

LGBT rights

Despite voting against the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell as a member of the United States House of Representatives,[63] Kirk joined seven other Senate Republicans in voting in favor of the policy's repeal on December 18, 2010.[64]

On April 2, 2013, Kirk became the second sitting Republican senator to support same-sex marriage, joining Ohio Senator Rob Portman.[65]

Kirk is a cosponsor and strong supporter of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and in November 2013 one of several Republicans to vote in favor of the law, which would prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.[66]


In April 2014, the United States Senate debated the Minimum Wage Fairness Act (S. 1737; 113th Congress). The bill would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) to increase the federal minimum wage for employees to $10.10 per hour over the course of a two year period.[67] The bill was strongly supported by President Barack Obama and many of the Democratic Senators, but strongly opposed by Republicans in the Senate and House.[68][69][70] Kirk said he would not vote for the bill or a compromise.[70]

Kirk voted in April 2014 to extend federal funding for unemployment benefits. Federal funding had been initiated in 2008 and expired at the end of 2013.[71]

In March 2015, Kirk voted for an amendment to establish a deficit-neutral reserve fund to allow employees to earn paid sick time.[72]

Airline safety

In the aftermath of the downing of a Malaysian Airlines flight by missiles over the Ukraine, Kirk called for an investigation into the possibility of outfitting commercial airliners with military chaff units. Military pilots have questioned the effectiveness of such a move.[73]

Social issues

Kirk voted for reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act in 2013.[74]

Caucus memberships

Committee assignments

Personal life

In February 1998, Kirk met Kimberly Vertolli, a Naval Intelligence Officer by chance while the two were on duty together at the Pentagon.[76] "It was supposed to be my weekend off...but Saddam had just thrown out the weapons inspectors and we were preparing for a strike on Baghdad", Vertolli said, according to Capitol File magazine.[77][78] The two married in August 2001, when Kirk was 41.[79] After eight years of marriage, the two separated, finalizing their divorce in the summer of 2009.

Kirk was earlier engaged to Virginia Hurt Johnson, whom he met while both were practicing law in Washington, D.C., in 1994.[80] Johnson became the Republican candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in the 13th congressional district of North Carolina in 2004. She was Counsel to the House Armed Services Committee and was the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for House Legislative Affairs under Defense Secretaries Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates.[80]

Stroke and recovery

On January 23, 2012, Kirk underwent surgery at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago following a stroke; he underwent neurosurgery to remove two small pieces of brain tissue rendered dysfunctional by the stroke and he had a piece of his cranium temporarily removed to lessen any danger from the brain swelling process. His neurosurgeon, Dr. Fessler,[81] expected him to have to spend a lengthy period in inpatient and outpatient stroke rehabilitation, but his cognitive functions, motor skills, and vital functions were largely unaffected by the stroke, save for the fact that his left side has a marked degree of weakness, which may improve during the healing process. Even barring any complications or further cerebrovascular incidents, it would still be months before any decision can be made about returning to the Senate.[4]

On May 1, 2012, Kirk was sent home from a rehabilitation center. A statement from his family said he would continue to work on rehabilitation on an outpatient basis, but that he has progressed enough to be able to move home with his family.[82] A week later, Kirk’s staff released a video showing Kirk walking on a treadmill and down a hallway at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago as doctors work with him to help fully regain the use of his left side.[83] A second video was released in August, showing Kirk is living at his Fort Sheridan, Illinois home, and while his left side still showed impairment, Kirk was walking without aid. According to an aide, his return to the Senate was expected in January 2013.[84] On November 4, he participated in a "SkyRise Chicago" challenge to climb the stairs of Willis Tower, successfully completing 37 floors.[85]

Electoral history

Illinois's 10th congressional district: Results 2000–2008[30]
Year Democratic Votes Pct Republican Votes Pct
2000 Lauren Beth Gash 115,924 49% Mark Kirk 121,582 51%
2002 Henry H. Perritt, Jr. 58,300 31% Mark Kirk 128,611 69%
2004 Lee Goodman 99,218 36% Mark Kirk 177,493 64%
2006 Daniel J. Seals 94,278 47% Mark Kirk 107,929 53% *
2008 Daniel J. Seals 138,176 47% Mark Kirk 153,082 53%
*Write-in and minor candidate notes: In 2006, a write-in received 1 vote.
Election 2010 Results[86]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Mark Kirk 1,778,698 48
Democratic Alexi Giannoulias 1,719,478 46
Green LeAlan Jones 117,914 3
Libertarian Michael Labno 87,247 2
Total votes 3,703,337 100
Republican gain from Democratic


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  36. ^ H.R. 6257
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  58. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  59. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)
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  61. ^ Illinois Review  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  62. ^ Easley, Jonathan (April 4, 2012). The Hill  Missing or empty |title= (help)
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  64. ^ "Senate Repeals Ban Against Openly Gay Military Personnel", New York Times, December 19, 2010.
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  80. ^ a b Virginia Johnson for Congress
  81. ^ Richard G. Fessler, MD, PhD
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  86. ^ "Election 2010". New York Times. Retrieved May 21, 2012. 

External links

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
John Porter
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 10th congressional district

January 3, 2001 – November 29, 2010
Succeeded by
Robert Dold
Party political offices
Preceded by
Alan Keyes
Republican nominee for U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Illinois
Most recent
United States Senate
Preceded by
Roland Burris
U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Illinois
November 29, 2010 – present
Served alongside: Dick Durbin
United States order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded by
Chris Coons
United States Senators by seniority
Succeeded by
Dan Coats