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State

Sen. Kirk, recovering from stroke, climbs 37 stories of Willis Tower

(MCT) — CHICAGO — Sen. Mark Kirk climbed more than three dozen flights of stairs in Chicago’s tallest building during a charity event Sunday, but his staff would not say when the senator will return to Congress after his stroke.

Kirk’s climb, his first public appearance since he was stricken nine months ago, was not announced in advance. The senator was unavailable for an interview, and his aides did not respond to questions.

Kirk, 53. made it from the 66th floor to the 103rd floor of Willis Tower, formerly known as Sears Tower, while participating in a charity fundraiser called Skyrise Chicago.

“I’m here. Where’s the beer?” he said from the top floor, where he was embraced and applauded by onlookers.

The Willis Tower climb was the latest in a series of carefully controlled events designed to portray Kirk as recovering while strictly limiting his public exposure.

Since falling ill, Kirk has appeared in a few videos overseen by his office. In May, aides released a video showing Kirk relearning to walk at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. He appeared last week in a campaign video for Rep. Bob Dold, R-Ill., whose seat Kirk held for almost 10 years, but did not speak publicly in it.

On Sunday, Kirk wore a brace on his left leg and held the stair rail during his climb, which was monitored by a physical therapist from the rehabilitation institute, where the lawmaker undergoes therapy.

Kirk underwent three brain surgeries after his stroke. His physicians said he might suffer lingering paralysis on his left side but was expected to regain his mental faculties.

Kirk was elected to the Senate two years ago. The Senate plans to convene for a post-election, lame-duck session on Nov. 13. On the agenda are highly charged debates over whether to extend the so-called Bush tax cuts and how to handle the massive cuts in discretionary federal spending slated to take effect in early 2013.

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(Randi Belisomo contributed to this report.)

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