Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy was elected to the House of Representatives in 2008 after almost 20 years of public service in Ohio. Using her committee assignments and personal experiences, Kilroy focused much of her attention on issues that dominated the 111th Congress: financial reform, health care and homeland security. Kilroy said, “Central Ohio needs a change in leadership. . . . I look forward to using the experience and knowledge I have gained here at home to make a much needed change in Washington.”1
Born on April 30, 1949, to John B. and Mary A. Kilroy, she was raised in Ohio. Kilroy graduated from Villa Angela Academy in Cleveland, Ohio in 1967, received her B.A. in political science from Cleveland State University and then went on to earn her J.D. at Ohio State University. She married Robert Handelman, with whom she worked as a lawyer in their private practice firm, Handelman and Kilroy. They raised two daughters, Julia and Rosa, and resided in Columbus, Ohio.
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. During her tenure, Kilroy launched an unsuccessful campaign for a seat in the Ohio state senate in 1996.2 After declining to stand for a third board term, Kilroy ran instead for Franklin County Commissioner, winning in 2000 and being re–elected in 2004. From 2005 to 2007, she served as president of the board. During her presidency, the commissioners worked to expand county residents’ eligibility for state–run assistance programs and to increase funding for low–income housing.3
Kilroy’s work in Ohio caught the eye of national Democrats and in 2006 the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee courted 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 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, telling the audience that, “Congress has become a part of, if not a source of, the problem. Deborah Pryce is wrong on the defining issues of our time.”4 Kilroy lost her bid after a vote recount, falling short by a margin of 1,055 votes.5
When Representative 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.6
Representative Kilroy was assigned to the Financial Services and Homeland Security committees. Her seat on Financial Services gave her an opportunity to shape legislation that set new regulations for the financial industry after the financial 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.7 She worked with fellow Ohio Democrats on employment issues in the state and targeted companies that planned to move thousands of Ohio jobs overseas.8 When it came to light in March 2009 that a major insurer that was bailed out 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.”9 The resolution failed in the House, 160 to 255.10
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 (SURE) Act, which would have enabled 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.11
In addition to the issues she targeted through her committee work, Representative Kilroy was a vocal supporter of health care reform. Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2003, Kilroy was intimately familiar with the issues surrounding expensive treatments and pre–existing conditions, and was committed to ending discriminatory policies. She penned a “Dear Colleague” letter to use her own experiences to make a personal appeal to her colleagues for the support of reform.12 Kilroy voted for the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and was a proponent of a public insurance option. In numerous floor speeches, Kilroy pushed for action.13 “You know, we’ve waited a long time, and there is such a thing as waiting too long,” she declared on the House Floor. “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.”14
Kilroy’s slim margin of victory in 2008 made her a target for Republicans in the 2010 election cycle. The election served as a re–match against her 2008 opponent, Steve Stivers, who won, garnering 54.7 percent of the vote to Kilroy’s 40.8 percent.15
1“Emily’s List Announces Endorsement of Mary Jo Kilroy in Ohio’s 15th Congressional District,” Targeted News Service, October 31, 2007.
2“Election Results Franklin County Returns,” 6 November 1996, The Columbus Dispatch: 4A.
3Robert Vitale, “Commissioners Bulk Up Assistance Programs for Low–Income Residents,” 16 February 2005, The Columbus Dispatch: 9B; Robert Vitale, “Conveyance Fee on Home Sales is Doubled,” 14 December 2005, The Columbus Dispatch: 1E; Ed Hoffman, “Increase in Title–Transfer Fee Will Help People Find Homes,” 21 January 2006, The Columbus Dispatch: 11A.
4Darrel Rowland, “Sparks Fly as Kilroy, Pryce Spar; In Their Only Debate, Candidates At Odds Over Everything, Including Iraq,” 13 October 2006, The Columbus Dispatch: 1A.
5“Election Statistics, 1920 to Present,” Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives, http://clerk.house.gov/.
6“Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”
7Congressional Record, House, 111th Cong., 1st sess. (11 December 2009): H14760.
8Jonathan Riskind, “Kilroy ‘Outraged’ By Report That Chase Will Send Jobs Overseas,” 17 March 2009, The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com/ (accessed 20 December 2010).
9Congressional Record, House, 111th Cong., 1st sess. (19 March 2009): H3668.
11H.R. 3837, 111th Congress, 2nd sess., http://thomas.loc.gov/ ; “Kilroy’s SURE Act Passes Full Committee on Homeland Security,” 17 November 2011, States News Service, http://w3.nexis.com/ (accessed 7 November 2011).
12Tricia Miller, “For Kilroy, MS Makes the Message Stronger,” 6 October 2009, Roll Call, http://rollcall.com/ (accessed 20 December 2010).
13Congressional 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.
14Congressional Record, House, 111th Cong., 1st sess. (7 November 2009): H12613.
15“Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”