Making what was billed as his first official public appearance in Illinois since he suffered a major stroke, U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., took questions from the press at a charter school at Naval Station Great Lakes outside North Chicago this afternoon and toured the school.
Speaking clearly and at times quickly, Kirk answered questions from reporters on subjects ranging from sequestration to the nomination of Penny Pritzker as commerce secretary.
Appearing with U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., Kirk opened with a few remarks praising the LEARN Public Charter School and advocating for more charter schools in the suburbs.
Kirk did not address his health but, when asked about it later by a reporter, he said: “It is a change. I will say that rehab works. Part of my mission is to tell everyone in Illinois who has (a parent with a medical issue who is depressed), call me and I’ll get them up.”
The senator arrived at the school, where he was helped out of an SUV and into a wheelchair. Once inside the school, he walked a few steps in a slow gait with a four-pronged cane. He switched back to the wheelchair for the tour of the school but did set it aside while visiting students in a classroom.
As they toured the charter school, the senators and congressman took questions from students in a seventh-grade class.
After a student revealed that he’d been picked on at his prior school, Durbin noted that Kirk, too, had overcome challenges, encouraging Kirk to talk of his health crisis.
"The reason I limp around is because I suffered a stroke, which rendered my arm and leg non-operational," Kirk told the students. "I am not as quick as I used to be. I have a mission ... to show and be an example to your older parents who go through something like that that ... you can come back."
Durbin added: "I can tell you, he's back."
Durbin said he and Kirk had wanted to demonstrate their bipartisan support for the Navy base and for the charter school. They had intended to appear at the school last fall, when it opened, but Kirk was not yet well enough.
Kirk, 53, spent nearly a year in rehabilitation -- learning to walk and talk again – after his health crisis in early 2012. He returned to the Senate on Jan. 3.
Since then, he has participated in roll call votes and promoted several bills, including one that calls for toughening laws on gun trafficking. He has spoken infrequently on the Senate floor since his return, although in March he did address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobby.