In 2008, after almost 20 years of public service in Ohio, Mary Jo Kilroy was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Using her committee assignments and personal experiences, Kilroy focused much of her attention on issues that dominated the 111th Congress (2009–2011): financial reform, health care, and homeland security. “Central Ohio needs a change in leadership,” Kilroy said. “I look forward to using the experience and knowledge I have gained here at home to make a much needed change in Washington.”1
Mary Jo Kilroy was born on April 30, 1949, to John B. and Mary A. Kilroy. She was raised in Ohio, and graduated from Villa Angela Academy in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1967. She received a BA in political science from Cleveland State University and went on to earn her JD at Ohio State University. She married Robert Handelman, with whom she worked as a lawyer in their private practice firm. They raised two daughters, Julia and Rosa, and resided in Columbus, Ohio.2
Kilroy first became involved in public service after winning a seat on the Columbus board of education in 1991. She served two terms (1992–1999) and was elected president of the board in 1999. In 1996 Kilroy ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the Ohio state senate.3 After declining to stand for a third term on the board of education, Kilroy ran instead for Franklin County commissioner in 2000; she won and was re-elected in 2004. From 2005 to 2007, she served as president of the commission where she worked to expand county residents’ eligibility for state-run assistance programs and to increase funding for low-income housing.4
Kilroy’s work in Ohio caught the eye of national Democrats and in 2006 the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recruited her to run for Congress. Capitalizing on her ties to Franklin County, Kilroy chose to run in the central Ohio district that encompassed roughly half of Franklin County, including Columbus, as well as Madison and Union counties. The campaign attracted national coverage, given that Kilroy was challenging incumbent Deborah D. Pryce, at the time the Chair of the Republican Conference, the number four position in House Republican leadership. During their only debate, Kilroy criticized Pryce for her insider status. “Congress has become a part of, if not a source of, the problem,” Kilroy said. “Deborah Pryce is wrong on the defining issues of our time.”5 Kilroy ended up losing in 2006 by only 1,055 votes following a recount.6
When Pryce announced her decision to retire in 2008, Kilroy ran again, this time in an open contest for the seat. It was another close race, but Kilroy edged out Republican state senator Steve Stivers 45.9 percent to 45.2 percent, a margin of 2,312 votes.7
In the House, Kilroy was assigned to the Financial Services and Homeland Security Committees. On Financial Services Kilroy had a rare opportunity to shape legislation that set new bank regulations after the industry’s collapse in 2008. Kilroy served as one of just two freshman Representatives on the conference committee for the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, and offered several amendments, including one that clarified that any future bailouts would not be funded by American taxpayers.8
Kilroy worked with fellow Ohio Democrats on employment issues in the state and targeted companies that planned to move thousands of Ohio jobs overseas.9 When it came to light in March 2009 that a major insurer that had been rescued by the federal government was going to pay its executives hundreds of millions of dollars in retention bonuses, Kilroy sponsored a resolution that expressed the sense that Congress deplored such conduct. “Today, in this resolution, we can tell these traders that business as usual is over,” Kilroy said. “We don’t care about their excuses and contracts. . . . We care about cleaning up this mess and changing the culture that caused this debacle.”10 The resolution failed in the House, 255 to 160.11
On the Homeland Security Committee, Kilroy supported measures that bolstered national and local defense and emergency preparedness. Kilroy sponsored the Strengthening and Updating Resources and Equipment Act, which would enable first responders to use federal grant money to maintain costly equipment needed in emergency situations. The bill had a wide backing, including endorsements from the International Association of Fire Fighters and the National Governors Association, but was not passed by the House or Senate.12
In addition to the issues she targeted through her committee work, Kilroy was a vocal supporter of health care reform. Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2003, Kilroy was familiar with the issues surrounding expensive treatments and preexisting conditions and was committed to ending discriminatory policies. She penned a “Dear Colleague” letter using her own experiences to make a personal appeal to her colleagues for the support of reform.13 Kilroy voted for the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and supported a public insurance option. In numerous floor speeches, Kilroy pushed for action.14 “You know, we’ve waited a long time, and there is such a thing as waiting too long,” she said. “It’s been too long for the 14,000 Americans a day who lose their health care coverage. Too long for the millions of us who are deemed uninsurable because we have a preexisting condition. Too long for people without insurance who cannot obtain the lifesaving medication or life-improving medications that will help them live a better life.”15
Kilroy’s slim margin of victory in 2008 made her a target for Republicans in the 2010 election. In a midterm cycle that saw Republicans capture the House majority, Kilroy lost to Steve Stivers, who took 55 percent of the vote to Kilroy’s 41 percent.16
In 2012 Kilroy lost the Democratic primary for a seat in the House from a new district created after the 2010 Census. In 2014 she lost a three-candidate race for Franklin County appeals judge.17
1“Emily’s List Announces Endorsement of Mary Jo Kilroy in Ohio’s 15th Congressional District,” October 31, 2007, Targeted News Service.
2“8 Things About Mary Jo Kilroy,” 13 September 2006, U.S. News & World Report: n.p.; Congressional Directory, 111th Cong., 1st sess. (Washington, DC: Government Printing Of f ice, 2009): 211; Roger Alford, “Vietnam War Sparked Kilroy’s Activism,” 28 February 1999, Columbus Dispatch (OH): 1A; “Obituary for Mary A Kilroy,” McMahon-Coyne-Vitantonio Funeral Homes, accessed 4 May 2020, https://mcvfuneralhomes.com/book-of-memories/ 3467945/Kilroy-Mary/obituary.php.
3“Election Results Franklin County Returns,” 6 November 1996, Columbus Dispatch: 4A.
4Robert Vitale, “Commissioners Bulk Up Assistance Programs for Low–Income Residents,” 16 February 2005, Columbus Dispatch: 9B; Robert Vitale, “Conveyance Fee on Home Sales is Doubled,” 14 December 2005, Columbus Dispatch: 1E; Ed Hoffman, “Increase in Title–Transfer Fee Will Help People Find Homes,” 21 January 2006, Columbus Dispatch: 11A.
5Darrel Rowland, “Sparks Fly as Kilroy, Pryce Spar; In Their Only Debate, Candidates At Odds Over Everything, Including Iraq,” 13 October 2006, Columbus Dispatch: 1A.
6Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”
7“Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”
8Congressional Record, House, 111th Cong., 1st sess. (11 December 2009): H14760.
9Jonathan Riskind and Steve Wartenberg, “Jobs on the Line,” 18 March 2009, Columbus Dispatch: 1A.
10Congressional Record, House, 111th Cong., 1st sess. (19 March 2009): H3668.
11Congressional Record, House, 111th Cong., 1st sess. (19 March 2009): H3674.
12SURE Act, H.R. 3837, 111th Cong. (2009); “Kilroy’s SURE Act Passes Full Committee on Homeland Security,” official website of Representative Mary Jo Kilroy, press release, 1 December 2009, https://web.archive.org/ web/20091201235441/http://kilroy.house.gov/2009/11/kilroys-sure-actpasses-full-committee-on-homeland-security.shtml.
13Tricia Miller, “For Kilroy, MS Makes the Message Stronger,” 5 October 2009, Roll Call, https://www.rollcall.com/2009/10/05/for-kilroy-ms-makesthe- message-stronger/.
14Congressional Record, House, 111th Cong., 1st sess. (22 July 2009): H8500–H8501; Congressional Record, House, 111th Cong., 1st sess. (31 July 2009): H9209; Congressional Record, House, 111th Cong., 1st sess. (9 September 2009): H9345–H9347; Congressional Record, House, 111th Cong., 1st sess. (15 September 2009): H9501; Congressional Record, House, 111th Cong., 1st sess. (13 October 2009): H11272–H11279; Congressional Record, House, 111th Cong., 1st sess. (7 November 2009): H12592; Congressional Record, House, 111th Cong., 2nd sess. (18 March 2010): H1598.
15Congressional Record, House, 111th Cong., 1st sess. (7 November 2009): H12613.
16“Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”
17“Mary Jo Kilroy,” Center for Women & Politics of Ohio, Baldwin Wallace University, accessed 30 October 2019, https://www.bw.edu/centers/womenand- politics-of-ohio/bios/10-kilroy-mary-jo; Kathy Lynn Gray, “Schuster, Brunner Win Franklin County Court of Appeals Races,” 5 November 2014, Columbus Dispatch: 5B.