Reporting Jay Levine
CHICAGO (CBS) – U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk has reached another milestone in his recovery from a major stroke last year.
On Friday, the Republican lawmaker made a symbolic return to his former Congressional District on the North Shore, four months after returning to work on Capitol Hill.
CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reports Kirk is still making progress in his long recovery from the stroke he suffered nearly 16 months ago.
Speaking to a group of charter school students on Friday, Kirk explained his current condition.
“The reason why I limp around is because I suffered a stroke, which rendered my arm and leg not operational,” Kirk said. “One problem is, especially in public speaking, that I’m not as quick as I used to be.”
Many of the students were children of Naval Station Great Lakes personnel. Kirk and fellow U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin spoke to the students after taking a tour of the Navy training station.
For long distances, Kirk still uses a wheelchair. Other times, he walks with a cane.
Friday’s visit was to a school he and Durbin helped fund.
“This is our first public appearance back in Illinois since mark has returned to the U.S. Senate, and we talked about this on the floor of the Senate; that this would be our first stop, because this is something we worked on together,” Durbin said.
Kirk returned to work in Congress in January, when he made good on a rehab goal of walking up the U.S. Capitol steps to the Senate.
Four months later, he seems to have made more progress in his physical recovery.
“It’s pretty real,” Kirk said, explaining that he regularly walks about a block every morning as part of his rehabilitation. The walk the Fort Sheridan water tower used to take him 18 minutes, but took him only 8 minutes on Thursday.
“So, it’s much, much faster,” he said.
Durbin joked that he’s been carefully watching Kirk’s voting record since he went back to work. “There have been some setbacks, but he has made real progress,” Durbin said.
The light-hearted mood of Friday’s event changed when facing a group of 7th graders, and the two were asked about the epidemic of violence and street gangs.
Kirk said he wants federal authorities to go after the state’s largest street gang, the Gangster Disciples.
“I would like to use federal money to arrest most of them and put them in the new prison that we just bought from Illinois, Thomson prison,” Kirk said. “That’s about 18,000 arrests just to crush this one drug gang.”
Kirk said he has a particular animus toward the Gangster Disciples, because the two young men charged with killing honor student Hadiya Pendleton are purported Gangster Disciples.
Kenneth Williams and Michael Ward have been charged with first-degree murder in Hadiya’s death. Authorities said Ward shot at Hadiya and a group of her classmates after mistaking them for rival gang members. Williams allegedly drove the getaway car.
It was Fitting that Friday’s public appearance for Kirk took place at Great Lakes. He is a Navy man through and through, having served in the Naval Reserves since 1989.
Kirk’s ordeal seems to have strengthened the bonds between him and Durbin. The two could be a model of bipartisan cooperation, rare in Washington right now.
A social moderate, fiscal conservative and defense hawk, Kirk often straddles both sides of the political aisle. There are only a few in Congress who might be able to fill the current bipartisan void, and he might be one of them.