Kirk’s stroke draws former Porter staff together

“We should really get together,” the onetime staffers in former North suburban U.S. Rep. John Porter’s office would say, year after year.

But life interceded, until news of U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk’s stroke helped rekindle the close-knit relationships they developed on Capitol Hill nearly three decades earlier.

Chicago attorney Peter Friedman, an aide in Porter’s office from 1986 to 1991, was driving on the Eisenhower Expressway when he heard of Kirk’s January 2012 stroke on the radio — and was so stunned he had to pull over.

“It’s a moment that you just realize that things happen. You’ve always got to remember who’s important and what’s good and how fragile things are,” Friedman said.

Kirk was hired as a legislative assistant in Porter’s office after graduating from the London School of Economics. Five years later, he was named chief of staff.

Porter describes himself as “blessed with a lot of smart hardworking young people who served me well the whole time I was in Congress.”

That group, along with Friedman and Kirk, included Bill Cadigan, now a Winnetka attorney and New Trier Township GOP committeeman.

Cadigan reminisced about the long days in the office, which sometimes were followed by long nights in bars, and some memorable congressional staff softball seasons.

In 1990, Kirk left Porter’s office to work as special assistant to the assistant U.S. secretary of state.

Porter said that while he and Kirk stayed in touch, it came as a surprise when, in 1999, Kirk announced his bid for the seat Porter would be vacating the following year.

Several of the dozen Republican primary bidders for the seat had close ties to Porter — among them, Northbrook Mayor Mark Damisch.

“I initially said I’m not going to endorse in the primary,” Porter said.

That February, however, he endorsed Kirk.

Kirk won the primary and narrowly defeated Highland Park Democrat Lauren Beth Gash in the general election.

Kirk’s message as a fiscal conservative and social moderate — crafted in the image of Porter and honed in Kirk’s five terms as 10th District congressman — helped him win the Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama by 2 percentage points in November 2010.

In that first year, Kirk seemed tireless. Energetic. Unstoppable.

The stroke, Porter said, was “the last thing you’d expect.”

Meanwhile, Porter’s former staff, reminded of the fragility and unfairness of life, began getting together, including in April at the Wilmette home of former staffer Ann James.

“It made you remember ... what we did and how special this all has been,” Friedman said.

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