Alton mayoral candidate Mick McCahill in front of an Abraham Lincoln mural painted on his dining room wall. McCahill, a Lincoln "buff," commissioned a friend to do the work.
Growing up as a Democrat in the gritty, river town of Alton, Mick McCahill's Irish Catholic family didn't just talk politics at the dinner table. They pounded the pavement for their candidates.
"We did more than just talk about it," McCahill said. "We'd go door-to-door for Dick Allen, go to fund-raisers for Matt Melucci, put up their signs...all the stuff you do in campaigns. I didn't question it. I just did it."
Now at age 34, McCahill, who surprised his family more than a decade ago when he announced he was a Republican, is gathering a lifetime of experiences and skills acquired as a political professional, and throwing them into a race for mayor of his hometown.
He enjoys the support and counsel from some prominent, though diverse, family members--McCahill is the nephew of retired Madison County Chief Judge P.J. O'Neill, and the nephew of current Illinois House Republican chief of staff William O'Connor.
No longer a Democrat, and reluctant to lean on obvious influence, McCahill seeks to establish a name for himself.
"I've had a hard time separating self from family," he said. "I have tried to form my own identity."
"I've talked to P.J. some. He's been helpful and given good advice, but I wouldn't want ride on his coattails. He worked hard as a judge to stay above the fray and tried to maintain as much integrity in Madison County as possible. And he did a good job," McCahill said.
At first the Democrats in his family did not believe he strayed. But after finishing a three-year hitch with the U.S. Army in 1992, McCahill saw the world differently.
"When I got out I had a better understanding of what Democrats and Republicans stood for," McCahill said. "Before, I generally didn't question anything. I just followed.
"The strange thing about my understanding of politics growing up is
that much less emphasis was placed on issues than was placed on
partisan politics," he said. "I think that is why Alton is represented by people like Bill Haine, who is much moe conservative than most Chicago area Republicans."
It was the leadership of the first U.S. President George Bush during the Gulf War that transformed his politics. "I respected his leadership and saw the reality," McCahill said.
His father, Miles McCahill, has been a diligent Democrat workhorse for as long as the son can remember. The two are close, but his father's strong opinions--which recently generated a report in the city's daily newspaper, Alton Telegraph--have gotten him into some hot water.
The paper reported that Miles McCahill had been making harrassing phone calls to his son's political opponents. The father and candidate apologized. No charges were filed.
"I've had to go to great lengths to keep my dad at arm's length."
For the past three years, McCahill has been a policy analyst with the Illinois House Republican Organization, helping southern Illinois legislators understand the concerns of their districts and crafting legislation accordingly. In election years, he takes leave from his state job to run political campaigns. Most recently he helped in the election of State Rep. David Reiss (R-Olney).
Taking on a field of four other candidates, including incumbent Donald Sandidge, McCahill's platform includes revitalizing Alton's downtown--something the current administration has failed to do, he charges.
"The current administration is neither proactive nor progressive," he said.
"People don't want to come to Alton to eat at Applebee's or White Castle and sleep in the Super 8," McCahill said. "Unfortunately, the current administration has not capitalized on our strengths, the things that differentiate us."
He also believes the mayor should take a stand on the medical malpractice crisis facing doctors in the region, and adopt a resolution supporting caps on damages.
Known by many as site of the Alton Belle Casino, the city also is renowned for a quaint antique district and its majectic river bluffs--where the legendary Piasa once nested and where tourists flock to observe bald eagles soar.
McCahill claims the city's reliance on the gaming industry for one-third of its revenue is too much; the budget deficit is too high and too many jobs are leaving.
"As a fifth generation Altonian I have a deep respect and understanding of our city’s history and the people who have contributed so much to the rich fabric of Alton," he claims in a campaign piece.