The Power of Politics: Mark Kirk

U.S. Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) knows what it takes to walk the halls of power in Washington, D.C.

Kirk serves on the Committees on Appropriations, Banking, Housing and Urban Development and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions as well as the Special Committee on Aging.

But it was climbing the 45 steps to reach the U.S. Capitol this past January—one year after suffering an ischemic stroke—that was his biggest triumph. We already knew that he was powerful; now we know he has real strength.

How did you get your start?

Before I had the honor of representing the 10th Congressional District of Illinois, I served on the staff of my predecessor, Congressman John Porter. When I was elected in 2000, I pledged to continue our tradition of thoughtful, independent leadership. It is with that perspective that I serve as your United States Senator.

What do you love most about what you do?

Helping people. Whether it’s helping a veteran get his or her disability claim approved, helping an immigrant navigate the citizenship process, or appointing someone to a military academy, knowing that your work makes a difference in people’s lives makes this the best job in the world.

How do you define power? 

Having the ability to make a positive difference in people’s lives.

How are you wielding yours to make the world a better place?

Every day in office, you have an opportunity to make a major difference in the lives of all Americans. From my bipartisan work to prevent a nuclear Iran, to cracking down on dangerous drug gangs like the Gangster Disciples, there is no shortage of challenges that must be met.

My latest effort is to boost the quality of health care Americans receive following a major medical issue. After suffering from a serious stroke in January 2012, I made it my mission to improve the care of all Americans who face serious medical complications. That’s why I recently introduced my “Stroke Agenda”—several pieces of legislation that will streamline stroke research and improve access for rehabilitation services. I know better than most that rehab works, and every American should have the same opportunity to get back to work following a major health issue.

Who mentored you? Who are you excited about mentoring right now?

While Congressman Porter’s legacy drove much of my congressional service, my inspiration now comes from an 11-year-old named Jackson Cunningham, who lives near Champaign, Ill. Jackson suffered from a stroke when he was 8 years old, and we both underwent rehabilitation at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.

While I was recovering, Jackson wrote to me and urged me to not give up. We’ve since become very good friends. I’ve watched Jackson progress as he continues with his rehab to the point where he can now run again. It’s an inspiring story that helps motivate me to continue with my own rehab and be an advocate for other victims of stroke and serious medical issues.


Find the rest of our power players here.