Galesburg businessman to seek GOP nomination for 17th District

A longtime Galesburg resident and businessman has thrown his hat in the ring to run against U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline, in 2018. 

Mark Kleine announced Thursday he will run as a Republican candidate in the 2018 congressional race for Illinois’ 17th District. He would face Bustos if he wins the Republican primary. Kleine is president of Kleine Companies and a partner in MAK Properties with his wife, Jeannette. He also sits on boards for five local organizations including the OSF St. Mary Medical Center Board and the Knox County Area Partnership for Economic Development Board. 

Klein said he sees running for national office as a way to serve Galesburg and the area at the next level and “really fight hard for northwestern Illinois,” he said. As a businessman with no traditional political experience, he plans to run on a platform of job creation and slashing government spending.

He envisions a 17th District with more small businesses and increased investment in small businesses, as he said he has done for more than 20 years. He gave the example of when he invested in Sitka Salmon Shares, a small business in Galesburg that delivers fresh salmon from Alaska to online subscribers throughout the nation. 

“Politicians talk about things like tax reform, they talk about creating jobs, but it’s all talk,” Kleine said. “The reality is I’ve lived it, I’ve done it — I’ve done it in my community, I’ve done it throughout half of District 17 — and frankly that’s what it takes today, are people who have been in the private sector and are willing to tackle the challenges.” 

Kleine anticipated that his focus on job creation would appeal to the 17th District’s broad base of voters. If elected, he said he will work together with others to bring jobs to the district and compromise to get things done. 

He added that he would have “an open door policy” toward his constituents and would frequent the district during public events to hear what constituents have to say about policies before he took any action on them. 

“When you run a business, you’re able to work with the people in the business and you’re able to make decisions, and you’re able to get things done,” Kleine said. “When you go to D.C., sometimes that can be a challenge. ... I think the challenge will be working with the establishment and trying to bring people together, but the bottom line is, I’m going to stand for my district and what the people in my district tell me is important to them.” 

Before Kleine announced his campaign via email news release Thursday, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee emailed a news release saying Kleine attempted “to silence Congresswoman Bustos for trying to protect Illinois children from lead contaminated water.” Kleine said he filed to run for office at 9:30 a.m., and the DCCC release came out at about 11 a.m. 

“For Mark Kleine, it was all about money,” the release read. “Worried that the bad press might hurt the value of a Galesburg housing development he was building, Kleine tried to silence Rep. Bustos and publicly called on elected leaders to sweep the issue under the rug.”

The release cited a May 15, 2016, article from The Register-Mail in which Kleine said: “If we can get everyone who says they’re willing to work with us, including our congresswoman, the message needs to be, nationally and locally, that Galesburg has clean water.” 

Kleine responded that he had “never been critical of fixing the lead pipes in our community.”

“The part I’m critical of my opponent on is she came to Galesburg and she blew up this lead in the water like we were Flint, Michigan, and she grandstanded on the issue and then came back and made herself look like the hero,” Kleine said. “That’s not how you get things done; that’s not how you help a community. That’s the part I was critical of my opponent on, and that is the establishment at work. 

“I want to applaud Mayor John Pritchard and the city on how they’ve handled this lead pipe issue,” Kleine added. “We did get money from the government and we are fixing the lead pipes, and I am 100 percent supportive of it, but I am not in support of the way my opponent went about in making it happen. Frankly, that was straight out of the Nancy Pelosi playbook.”

Kleine emphasized that he is not running because he doesn’t like his opponent, but because of what he wants to do for the 17th District and its people. He added that he plans to carve his own path and make his own independent voice heard in the district if elected. 

“The status quo isn’t working, and both parties share the blame,” Kleine said. “I’m not a politician, I’m a business leader — I’m an outsider. I want to do what’s right for our country and for this district.”