St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly, left, talks with Andy Schimpf, right, operations manager for the Mississippi River Project, Tuesday during a tour of the Melvin Price Locks and Dam 26 in Alton. Kelly is running against David Bequette in the primary for the Democratic nomination, as a candidate for U.S. Representative for Illinois’ 12th Congressional District. Republican Mike Bost currently holds the U.S. Representative seat, but has a challenger in the primary.
John Badman | The Telegraph
ALTON — A candidate for the U.S. Congress came to Alton not to shake hands or kiss babies Tuesday, but to learn about operations at Melvin Price Locks and Dam 26.
“Our economic plan needs to focus on infrastructure needs,” said Brendan Kelly of Swansea, a Democratic candidate for U.S. Representative for Illinois’ 12th Congressional District in the March 20 General Primary.
“Illinois has a C minus in terms of infrastructure,” he said referring to a 2014 rating by the American Society of Civil Engineers. “That is one of the reasons I’m here. Infrastructure needs are tremendous and I have to see what those needs are.”
Kelly, 41, currently is the St. Clair County State’s Attorney. He is running for the Democratic nomination against David Bequette of Columbia in the primary. Republican Mike Bost currently holds the U.S. Representative seat, but has a challenger in the primary, Preston Nelson of Benton. Randy Auxier, of Murphysboro and the Green Party, also has filed to run in the primary.
In an exclusive interview with The Telegraph, Kelly said he already has spent time in Alton, and continues to do so as he tries to learn about all parts of the large, 12-county 12th District that extends from Alton south to Cairo. He said he is trying to become informed about each area’s particular problems and needs, as well.
The district does not include the Edwardsville-Glen Carbon area, which is in a peninsula attached to District 13 to the north.
“I have spent a lot of time here, I have had a lot of meetings with activists and grassroots folks who are very concerned about this community,” he said. “We don’t just talk about issues that concern people in an abstract way, but focus on the needs of individuals. In order to be an effective representative and advocate for the people of Illinois, you have to know the specific needs of each individual community.”
Among such concerns is the opioid epidemic — for which law enforcement and availability of treatment for addicts both play a part in solving. “I was the first prosecutor in the state of Illinois to sue big pharmaceuticals over opioids,” he said. “Congress needs to do its part.”
Regarding abortion, he said the decision is up to a woman and her doctor, but he supports “certain restrictions on late-term abortions.”
He said the district constituents range from conservative to liberal. Despite his military and law enforcement background, Kelly said he considers himself in the middle of the political spectrum. “I am a Democrat, but not a cookie-cutter Democrat,” he said.
He said he is a strong supporter of the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and organized labor, and would not vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
“The Affordable Care Act accomplished some good things, but there are some weaknesses that need to be amended and tweaked. Tearing apart the existing healthcare for folks now is not the answer. We have to stabilize the Affordable Care Act and work on lowering the cost,” Kelly said.
He also said the “continued consolidation of politics and the economy is tearing the country apart with the flood of unlimited dark, foreign money into our politics. It has corrupted our democracy. We have to pass a Constitutional amendment to restrict the amount of money in our elections. We also need to look very aggressively at monopolies and certain industries like telecommunications, airlines, eyeglasses, food and other industries where massive corporations control overwhelming amounts of the market and they can increase prices for consumers and hurt small businesses.”
At outset of his tour of the dam and adjoining National Great Rivers Museum, 2 Lock and Dam Way, Park Ranger Tommy Smith, lead natural resources specialist; and Andy Schimpf, operations manager for the Mississippi River Project, were on hand to explain the history, physical features and operations of the locks and dam — the first day federal workers returned to work after the three-day furlough caused by the budget impasse in Congress.
The entourage viewed the locks from high above on top of the dam, a brisk cold wind whipping the group. Below, at the west side of the two lock’s leafs were masses of broken, sharp ice floes.
The floes behind the smaller, 600-foot-long lock were unleashed when tow boat Brian A. Napak of Cincinnati slowly made its way through the choppy waters.
“We just plow on through,” Smith said of the tow pressing through the broken ice on the water surface.
Schimpf said when there is ice on the river, it is better when the temperatures stay low and it doesn’t melt. The river traffic opens a route that stays open; if the ice melts, then re-freezes, the next vessel breaks up the ice again and those pieces can fly upward and cause damage throughout the dam area, he said.
To help with the backlog, the leaf at the lock can be lowered to allow the ice to pass over the top and through the lock to travel down river.
The main, 1,200-foot-long lock is undergoing maintenance work during these slower, post-harvest months. Schimpf said it should reopen in early March.
The men explained to Kelly, who asked numerous questions along the way, the importance of the riverway and dam to industry and the economy; condition of the facility and that of Lock 27 in Granite City and what work is needed at each; and tonnage of materials that go through the locks yearly at considerably less cost than if it is hauled by truck.
Smith also told Kelly that the museum at the facility is important.
“The museum impacts the local economy, we have a lot of visitors,” he said, with the dam open for tours every day.
Kelly grew up in a military family, living in Germany and other locations until his family moved to Scott Air Force Base in 1986. He was in the U.S. Navy ROTC while attending the University of Notre Dame. While in college, Kelly volunteered with a non-profit group that worked with law enforcement combating child prostitution in Canada.
Following college, Kelly joined the Navy, becoming an officer. He conducted research on Israeli-Palestinian joint police patrols.
Kelly earned his juris doctor from St. Louis University School of Law. Prior to becoming State’s Attorney in 2010, he was assistant state’s attorney prosecuting cases in the felony, juvenile, misdemeanor and child support enforcement divisions.
As State’s Attorney, Kelly established the Violet Crime Unit, the Tracy Fogarty Domestic Violence Unit and St. Clair County Juvenile Justice Council and Children’s Justice Division. A former school board member, he is working with school districts to fight parent-caused truancy.
He is married and the father of two sons.
Reach Linda N. Weller at 618-208-6450 or on Twitter @Linda_Weller