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updated: 4/2/2012 2:02 PM

Help for Kirk growing on both sides of the aisle

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By Kerry Lester

It was evident by the string of congratulatory Election Night calls he placed to primary victors that U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk is eager to get back to the business of politics.


A growing list suggests that the Highland Park Republican's peers feel the same way and are doing what they can to bolster the spirits and ease the workload of his office as Kirk recovers from a January stroke and subsequent brain surgery.

This list of "VIPs" -- privately kept by Kirk's staff since news of his stroke hit in late January -- has grown to include nearly 20 state and congressional officials who have lent a helping hand. Nine are Democrats, from former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to the staff of former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

Daley stopped by a February retreat to offer words of encouragement to Kirk's staff and remind them that the important work they were doing was even more so as their boss recovered. Republican Congressman John Shimkus, of downstate Collinsville, served as the honorary chair of Kirk's energy advisory board late last week.

Peoria Congressman Aaron Schock stood in for a speaking engagement that Kirk had accepted at the LaSalle County GOP's annual Lincoln Day Dinner.

In addition to counseling Kirk's Washington, D.C., staff, Sen. Dick Durbin, a Springfield Democrat, has helped advance the junior senator's judicial recommendations as well as several pieces of legislation.

Kirk and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell have spoken "at least once" by phone, McConnell's communications director Michael Brumas said last week. During a conversation in mid-March, McConnell relayed that a "true to form" Kirk "was eager to discuss policy and specifically expressed his appreciation for our support in backing his latest initiatives to tighten Iran sanctions. I told him that his colleagues are behind him as he confronts the rigorous physical therapy that he described and we are eager to have him back."

Brumas described the 100-member upper chamber as one with "quite a bit of camaraderie."

He said, "Members are aware if there's an issue with another member. (They) try to help."

Kirk has not yet spoken publicly, and his staff members have largely chosen to release statements on his condition.

In a letter about a recent visit with Kirk, Shimkus described him as "mentally sharp enough to cast knowledgeable votes."

When Shimkus said goodbye, he said, Kirk gave him a strong handshake.

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