December 24, 2003 - Pantagraph: Sierra Leone RPCV Mike Kelleher a fast-rising star

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Sierra Leone: Peace Corps Sierra Leone : The Peace Corps in Sierra Leone: December 24, 2003 - Pantagraph: Sierra Leone RPCV Mike Kelleher a fast-rising star

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Sierra Leone RPCV Mike Kelleher a fast-rising star

Sierra Leone RPCV Mike Kelleher a fast-rising star

Democrat a fast-rising star

By Kurt Erickson
When Mike Kelleher worked as a congressional aide on Capitol Hill, he kept a cardboard box in his apartment.

Inside it were gifts and mementos routinely handed out by lobbyists as part of the influence-peddling game in Washington, D.C.

Every so often, Kelleher would take the box and donate the contents to charity, said his roommate, Jeff Langholz.

"He's not the kind of guy who made a big fanfare about it. He was just quietly doing it," said Langholz. "I thought, 'My God, this guy cannot be bought.'"

More than a decade later, Kelleher is back in government, overseeing state economic development efforts in a 10-county area of Central Illinois.

That means he's had a hand in funneling millions of dollars in new state projects to the area, and that means he's one of The Pantagraph's 10 to Watch in 2004.

Mayors and city officials from throughout the largely Republican area are quickly learning that Kelleher can serve as a pipeline to the Democratic governor's office.

Kelleher, 42, said he intends to commute to work from his home in Normal, where he lives with his wife, Karin, and their three children.

He has been a newspaper reporter, a Peace Corps volunteer, a university instructor and on the losing end of two elections -- three if you count his stint as an aide to 1994 gubernatorial candidate Dawn Clark Netsch.

In every one of his roles, he has won accolades from those he touched.

Colleen Farlee of Bloomington met Kelleher when he returned from the Peace Corps in the mid-1980s.

He was working for former U.S. Rep. Marty Russo of Illinois.

"We told him if he ever came back to McLean County and ran for office, he should give us a call," said Farlee.

In 1999, Kelleher launched an upstart bid for the 15th Congressional District seat and asked Farlee to be his campaign treasurer.

"I think he really cares for people," Farlee said. "I think the Peace Corps really got to him and showed him what his life should be."

Although he lost the election to Republican Tim Johnson, Kelleher's campaign injected energy into the McLean County Democratic Party.

After the race, Kelleher also began laying the groundwork to create what is now known as the Stevenson Center at Illinois State University.

A statewide economic-development conference brought together top political leaders from across Illinois and the nation.

Kelleher launched a bid for lieutenant governor in the 2002 election.

Although he won key backing from some big-name Democrats, it wasn't enough to overcome former state Treasurer Pat Quinn's name recognition.

Russo, now a top lobbyist in Washington, D.C., said Kelleher would have been a "helluva" congressman.

"He's a very bright guy, an excellent writer, a hard worker, dedicated and loyal. Those are things that are important to me," said Russo.

Langholz, a professor in California, met Kelleher during their stint in the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone. One night, he spent the night in Kelleher's mud hut, and the two of them ate snake meat -- python to be exact.

"What drives Mike is service to humanity. He spends his life looking for ways to express that strong desire," said Langholz.

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Story Source: Pantagraph

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Sierra Leone; Politics; Economic Development



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