Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy (D)
Ohio 15th District
Smack in the center of Ohio, Columbus was founded in 1812 as the state capital. Its flat-domed Capitol at Broad and High, with the statue of President William McKinley out front, is surrounded by high-rises; the city has grown in all directions into the countryside and is on the verge of becoming a large metropolis. It is the headquarters of state government and the Ohio State University, which, with more than 52,000 students, has the highest enrollment of any campus in the nation. It is the headquarters of the Batelle Memorial Institute, the think tank that helped invent compact discs, office copy machines and the Universal Product Code; a major industry here is data retrieval. After annexing many suburbs and doubling its geography since 1967, Columbus is now Ohio’s largest central city by far, with 724,000 people in 2007. Franklin County has nearly 1.1 million. Given the suburban growth, more people in the seven-county metro area now live outside than inside the Interstate 270 outer belt, which was completed in the 1980s. Former farm towns are booming. Columbus has built civic landmarks—the Center of Science and Industry on the riverfront, the Jerome Schottenstein Center for sports and concerts at OSU, a hockey stadium for the Columbus Blue Jackets and the nation’s first stadium built for a professional soccer team, the Columbus Crew, the Major League Soccer champions in 2008. There is residential building downtown in thriving entertainment districts. With the nation’s highest proportion of residents age 25 to 34, Columbus has been attracting young professionals and immigrants and continues to be a prime test market for commercial products. BET.com ranked Columbus second, behind Charlotte, N.C., as the nation’s best city for African-American families.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 15th Congressional District of Ohio includes all of Columbus except the east side, plus southern and western Franklin County and once-rural Madison and Union counties to the west. Honda has invested $6 billion in Union County—its projects included a motorcycle plant in 1979 and an auto plant in 1982—though in 2009 it decided to stop production of motorcycles because of declining sales. The 15th includes white working-class areas on the south side of the city and in nearby Grove City. Politically, these Democratic areas long were balanced by the heavily Republican suburb of Upper Arlington, across the Olentangy River from Ohio State, and by Republican subdivisions sprouting up in the exurbs. But since 2004, Columbus has been the target of highly successful registration and turnout drives by Democrats. The 15th District voted only narrowly for Republican President George W. Bush in 2004 and four years later, gave Democratic nominee Barack Obama a 54%-45% win.
Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy (D)
Elected: 2008, 1st term.
Born: April 30, 1949, Euclid .
Education: Cleveland St. U., B.A. 1977; OH St. U., J.D. 1980.
Family: Married (Robert); 2 children.
Elected office: Columbus Schl. Bd., 1991-2000; Franklin Cnty. Commission, 2000-08, pres. 2005-07.
Professional Career: Practicing atty, Handelman & Kilroy.
The new congresswoman from the 15th Congressional District is Mary Jo Kilroy, the first Democrat since 1982 to represent a Columbus-area House district. In 2008, she won the seat of retiring Republican Rep. Deborah Pryce, who had prevailed in a contest against Kilroy two years earlier by only 1,055 votes. The daughter of a pipe fitter, Kilroy was born in Euclid in the Cleveland area. She worked her way through college, taking jobs at hospitals and restaurants. After receiving her law degree from the Ohio State University, she went into private practice with her husband, and in 1991, she was elected to the Columbus School Board. Her next stop, in 2000, was the Franklin County Commission, where she rose to become commission president in 2005 and was instrumental in creating the Franklin County Affordable Housing Trust Corporation, aimed at increasing the number of minority homeowners.
|Mary Jo Kilroy (D)||139,584||(46%)||($2,611,122)|
|Steve Stivers (R)||137,272||(45%)||($2,244,221)|
|Mark Noble (Lib)||14,061||(5%)|
|Don Eckhart (I)||12,915||(4%)||($33,596)|
|Mary Jo Kilroy (D)||Unopposed|
In 2006, the national Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recruited Kilroy to take on Pryce, a popular former member of the Republican leadership in the House. When news stories broke that year about Florida Republican Rep. Mark Foley’s lewd email messages to male congressional pages, Kilroy publicized Pryce’s personal friendship with Foley in attack ads that aired on Christian and conservative radio stations. Pryce’s slim victory remained in limbo until a recount in December, after which Kilroy immediately began preparing for a rematch. But Pryce decided to retire, and Kilroy had to shift to a new opponent. The GOP nominee was state Sen. Steve Stivers, who like Pryce, was a moderate Republican and backed abortion rights. He had impressive political and military credentials as well: five years in the Ohio Senate and service in the Ohio Army National Guard, including a stint in Iraq. Kilroy seized on Stivers’s résumé prior to being elected to the Legislature, when he was a lobbyist for Bank One. Lobbyists were unpopular with voters in 2008 because several prominent members of Congress had been tainted by their association with self-interested lobbyists. And as the election neared, the economy was slipping into recession, in part as a result of widespread bad lending practices by banks and mortgage companies. The DCCC, which invested heavily in the race, also attacked Stivers for his association with the financial industry. Stivers cited his work on behalf of Medicaid recipients with disabilities, criticized Kilroy for raising taxes locally, and said that she would impose government-run health care. He also got support from local veterans groups. Each candidate spent more than $2 million.
Stivers led in the initial results. But after rulings by the Secretary of State and court challenges of provisional ballots, Kilroy was certified the winner by 2,312 votes—a 45.9% victory over Stivers’s 45.2%. He won easily in the suburban counties, with 58% in Madison County and 62% in Union County, but they cast only 13% of the total. Kilroy won Franklin County by almost 15,000 votes. She was helped by two third-party candidates: college instructor Don Eckhart, an anti-abortion conservative who siphoned off 4.3% of the vote among Christian conservatives, and Libertarian Mark Noble, who got 4.6%. Stivers’s loss was a blow to the prestige of GOP House Minority Leader John Boehner, the powerful Ohioan who had personally recruited him to run for the seat. Republicans promised to make Kilroy a top target in 2010.