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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 Bob Dold
Personal details
Born Mark Steven Kirk
(1959-09-15) September 15, 1959 (age 57)
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. Kirk is a social moderate and fiscal conservative.[2][3]

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.[4]

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.[5] In January 2012, Kirk suffered a stroke,[6] and a full year passed before he returned to his congressional duties.[7] He is running for re-election to his U.S. Senate seat in 2016.[8]

Early life and education

Photo US Senator Mark Kirk.
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.[9][10] After graduating from New Trier East High School in 1977 he attended Blackburn College in Carlinville, Illinois, for two years, before briefly attending Autonomous University of Mexico[11] and subsequently transferring to Cornell University, where he graduated cum laude with a B.A. in History.[12] While at Cornell University, Kirk served as the president of the Seal and Serpent social fraternity.[13] Kirk later obtained a master's degree from the London School of Economics and a Juris Doctor (J.D.) from Georgetown University Law Center.[14][15]

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.[16] He later stated in speeches and interviews that he had been a nursery and middle school teacher. A leader at the church which housed the nursery school expressed her belief that Kirk overstated his role there, saying Kirk was "just an additional pair of hands to help a primary teaching person.”[16] 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.”[17][18]

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. Kirk spent two years practicing international law and four years as counsel to the House International Relations Committee.[19]

Military service

Kirk was commissioned as an intelligence officer in the United States Navy Reserve in 1989.[15]

In 1999 Kirk was recalled to active duty in Operation Allied Force for the bombing of Yugoslavia. He served from April 10 to June 6, 1999, as the intelligence officer of VAQ-209. 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.[20] 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.[21]

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.[22] 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 later clarified his statement, indicating that there is no record of his aircraft being fired upon and that he had incorrectly recalled the incident.[23][24]

During his tenure in the military, Kirk was twice counseled by the Pentagon after incidents in which he was accused of conducting political business while on duty. On one occasion Kirk commented on Rod Blagojevich's arrest and posted a tweet while on duty with the Navy in Afghanistan.[25] According to the Pentagon, Kirk was required to sign a statement acknowledging he knew the rules before returning to active duty. Kirk denied that he had ever improperly mixed politics with his military service.[25]

Kirk served three individual two-week reserve deployments in Afghanistan, with the latest concluding in September 2011.[26]

Kirk retired from the Navy Reserve in May 2013, after 23 years of service.[4] A formal military retirement ceremony was held for Kirk on 16 DEC 2014.[4]


In the official photograph of his retirement ceremony, Kirk is displaying the following medals: the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Joint Services Commendation Medal, the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, the Joint Service Achievement Medal, the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, the National Defense Service Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, as well as the Navy Unit Commendation and the Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation with Service Star (representing two awards of the decoration). His uniform also displays the Navy Information Dominance Officer badge and the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Identification Badge.[27]

In 2010, Kirk corrected statements 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.[28] 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.[29] 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.[30] The National Military Intelligence Association gave the Vice Admiral Rufus L. Taylor Award to the entire Intelligence Division Electronic Attack Wing at Aviano.[29] 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.[20] 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.[31]

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".[32]

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.[15]

U.S. House of Representatives

Kirk as a Congressman.


Kirk was originally elected in 2000 with 51% of the vote. He won re-election with comfortable margins in both 2002 and 2004. He defeated Dan Seals by a five-point margin in 2006, defeating him again by the same margin in a 2008 rematch.[33]


During his time in the House, Kirk compiled a centrist voting record, tending to vote more liberally on social issues and more conservatively on foreign policy issues.[19] Kirk was a member of the House Iran Working Group, the founder and co-chair of the House U.S.-China Working Group,[34] the co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues,[15] the co-chair of the Albanian Issues Caucus in ex Yugoslavia,[35] and chair of The Tuesday Group, a group of moderate Republicans in the U.S. House.[36] During his House tenure, he was a member of the House Appropriations Committee.[37]

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.[19] He also fought against spending on the Alaska "bridge to nowhere" and pushed for reforms in the intelligence community.[19]

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."[38]

In 2006, Kirk pushed for an expansion of O'Hare and worked with Rahm Emanuel on a package to clean up Lake Michigan.[19]

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.[39] 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.[40] Both bills died in committee.

In 2009, Kirk voted for the American Clean Energy and Security Act.[41]

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.[42] 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%. During the campaign, Kirk said he had previously voted for emissions trading legislation "because it was in the narrow interests of my congressional district", but that as a representative of the entire state of Illinois, "I would vote no on that bill."[43]

In 2012, Kirk's ex-wife accused him of concealing a payment of $143,000 to a former girlfriend, Dodie McCracken, who had worked on his 2010 U.S. Senate campaign.[44] The Federal Election Commission dismissed allegations that the Kirk campaign had hidden the payments, saying they did not need to be disclosed because the girlfriend worked as a subcontractor on the campaign.[45]

2016 election

In June 2013, Kirk confirmed that he was planning to run for re-election.[46][47] In November 2014, Kirk reiterated his plans to seek re-election.[48] Kirk defeated fellow Republican James Marter in the primary election.[49][50] He will face Democrat Tammy Duckworth in the general election.[51]

Kirk's campaign has purchased television air time, and is advertising his opposition to admitting refugees to the Unites States "until it can be done safely".[52]

Policy positions

Kirk was sworn-in on November 29, 2010, as the junior U.S. Senator from Illinois.[53] Kirk sat at the Senate's coveted Candy Desk for several years.[54] Kirk is considered to be a social moderate and fiscal conservative.[2][3] On June 7, 2016, Kirk withdrew his initial support for businessman and presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election due to his "past attacks on Hispanics, women and the disabled like me." Kirk said he would write-in former CIA Director David Petraeus. [55]

Infrastructure and transportation policy

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.[56] It is estimated the project would create 200,000 jobs and add $18 billion to the regional economy when completed.[57]

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.[58]

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.[59] 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.[60]

Environmental policy

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.[61] Kirk has introduced similar legislation in the past,[62] and Kirk has been a longstanding supporter of efforts to keep invasive Asian Carp out of the Great Lakes ecosystem.[63]

Kirk believes that climate change is real and human activity contributes to it.[64]

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.[65] 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.[66]

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.[67]

Social issues

Kirk voted for re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act in 2013.[68]

Kirk is pro-choice. In 2015, he was one of two Republicans to oppose a ban on abortions after 20 weeks.[69] Kirk opposes Republican Party efforts to defund Planned Parenthood.[70] In September 2015, Kirk and Senator Durbin were thanked by the presidents of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund and Planned Parenthood Illinois Action for their opposition to such measures.[71]

In May 2010, Kirk voted against the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.[72] In December 2010, Kirk joined seven other Senate Republicans in voting in favor of the policy's repeal.[73]

On April 2, 2013, Kirk became the second sitting Republican U.S. Senator to support same-sex marriage, joining Ohio Senator Rob Portman.[74]

Kirk is a cosponsor and strong supporter of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and in November 2013 became 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.[75]

In January 2016, Kirk became the first Republican U.S. Senator to co-sponsor the Equality Act, which would make sex, sexual orientation and gender identity among the prohibited categories of discrimination or segregation under the 1964 Civil Rights Act.[76]


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.[77] The bill was supported by President Barack Obama and many Democratic Senators, but opposed by Republicans in the Senate and House.[78] Kirk said he would not vote for the bill or a related compromise bill.[78]

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.[79]

In March 2015, Kirk voted for an amendment to establish a deficit-neutral reserve fund to allow employees to earn paid sick time.[80]

Gun policy

Kirk is the only Republican U.S. Senator to receive an "F" rating from the National Rifle Association.[81] In 2015, he received a lifetime achievement award from the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence.[2] He supports background checks for gun sales,[82] and he has voted for an assault weapons ban.[83]

Other policy issues

In 2011, Kirk was one of only two Republicans to oppose legislation to detain American citizens indefinitely.[84]

In the aftermath of the downing of a Malaysian Airlines flight by missiles over Ukraine in 2014, Kirk called for an investigation into the possibility of outfitting commercial airliners with missile defense systems.[85]

In 2014, Kirk co-sponsored legislation to re-authorize the Export-Import Bank.[86]

After the death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016, Kirk was the first Republican U.S. Senator to publicly state that President Barack Obama's eventual replacement nominee for the Supreme Court should get a hearing and a vote. Other Republicans believe the next president should nominate a replacement for Scalia.[87] In April 2016, Kirk met with Obama's nominee, Merrick Garland, and circulated a memo to his Republican colleagues encouraging them to meet with him as well.[88]

Caucus memberships

Committee assignments

Personal life

In February 1998, Kirk met Kimberly Vertolli, a Naval Intelligence Officer, while the two were on duty together at the Pentagon.[90] The two married in 2001[91] and divorced in 2009.[92]

Stroke and recovery

On January 21, 2012, at age 52, Kirk suffered an ischemic stroke caused by a damaged blood vessel in his neck.[93] Two days later, he underwent neurosurgery at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago; a piece of his cranium was temporarily removed to lessen any danger from the brain swelling process.[6] He underwent followup surgery two days after that to remove more of his skull and some damaged brain tissue.[93] He suffered significant left-sided weakness and spent several months at an inpatient physical rehabilitation center.

On May 1, 2012, Kirk was sent home from the 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.[94] 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.[95] 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.[96] On November 4, he participated in a "SkyRise Chicago" challenge to climb the stairs of Willis Tower, successfully completing 37 floors.[97]

Kirk has since returned to his role as Senator, at times using a cane or wheelchair for assistance.[98] He cites his public role as motivation to return to work and to serve as an example for families suffering from stroke[99] and his stroke itself as motivation to improve early stroke detection[93] and rehabilitation.[100]

Electoral history

Illinois's 10th Congressional district Republican Primary election, 2000
Party Candidate Votes % +%
Republican Mark Kirk 19,717 31%
Republican Shawn Margaret Donnelley 9,585 15%
Republican Mark William Damisch 9,016 14%
Republican Andrew Hochberg 7,480 12%
Republican John Cox 6,339 10%
Republican Scott Phelps 3,712 6%
Republican Thomas Fredric "Tom" Lachner 2,555 4%
Republican Terry Gladman 2,172 3%
Republican James Goulka 1,469 2%
Republican John Guy 397 1%
Republican Jon Stewart 363 1%
Illinois's 10th congressional district: Results 2000–2008[33]
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.
U.S. Senate Republican Primary election in Illinois, 2010
Party Candidate Votes % +%
Republican Mark Kirk 420,373 57%
Republican Patrick Hughes 142,928 19%
Republican Donald "Don" Lowery 66,357 9%
Republican Kathleen Thomas 54,038 7%
Republican Andy Martin 37,480 5%
Republican John Arrington 21,090 3%
Republican Patricia Elaine Beard (Write-in) 2 0%
Election 2010 Results[101]
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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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

Succeeded by
Bob Dold
Party political offices
Preceded by
Alan Keyes
Republican nominee for U.S. Senator from Illinois
(Class 3)

2010, 2016
Most recent
United States Senate
Preceded by
Roland Burris
U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Illinois
Served alongside: Dick Durbin
Succeeded by
Dan Coats
United States order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded by
Chris Coons
United States Senators by seniority
Succeeded by
Dan Coats