Mark Kirk has loved politics for a very, very long time.

"I remember being six years old in 1980," the 34-year-old Kirk said, "Arguing with members of my first grade class that anyone was better than Jimmy Carter."

Despite that love of politics, he initially pursued a career in education like his father, school board president Robert Kirk, receiving a bachelor's degree in biology and later a master's of education.

"I always thought that I would teach, but after five years, I decided I needed to make a change."

He worked on the campaign to elect Sharon Runner to the state assembly, and landed a job working for her after her election. From there, he's advanced through the ranks, finally becoming the chief of staff for Fourth District Supervisor Gary Ovitt.

"I want to do what I can for my community," said Kirk, a Hesperia High School graduate. "I want to do my part to make this a good community."

He originally considered a run for first district supervisor against Brad Mitzelfelt before setting his sights on the empty Hesperia City Council seat being vacated this year by councilman Tad Honeycutt.

"They're going to have a new person there and I think I bring some new things to the party," Kirk said. Specifically, he brings experience working in government to a city council currently including a retired fireman, a retired fire inspector and two small business owners. "I have a great understanding of ... government, having worked for the state and worked for the county. ... I've seen some really creative ways of governance and seen some really great ideas."

Kirk emphasized that he's not running against the current city council.

"I really think that the current city council has done a great job," he said. "But I do think we can do a better job when it comes to bringing more tax revenue to the city, more jobs to the city."

He believes both of those can come to pass through "smart growth."

"It doesn't have to be helter-skelter, it doesn't have to drive itself," Kirk said. "You can't plan for today. You have to plan five years down the line."

Kirk said when he talks to business leaders around the county, they praise Hesperia's possibilities, even if they don't always see them coming to fruition.

"This city has more potential than any other in the county," he said. "It takes leadership to get it from potential to realization. ... You have to do that in a smart way, so that the quality of life [residents have] come to expect is protected.

"These are the same issues I've heard people talking about since junior high."

If elected, Kirk said he would add more firefighters, police officers and pave more roads -- goals shared by most candidates since the city's incorporation -- but he'd do it by tightening up on spending even further.

"Where can we make the city government more efficient?" he asked. "Our job is not to grow government; it's to make it more efficient and shrink it."

He also hopes to see the city's still-forming downtown center an important aspect of life in the city.

"I think it's a great idea and I think people want [public spaces] in their city," he said. "Other cities in San Bernardino County have done this ... and really increased the quality of life for people."

Kirk, Kirk & Blewett

But it's not only Sharon Runner's and Gary Ovitt's political careers that Kirk is associated with: Kirk helped his father get elected to the HUSD school board and is a regular at school board meetings, especially during the failed recall attempt that ended earlier this year.

"Early on, people are going to talk about my dad and me," the younger Kirk said. "I love him dearly, but we're two different people."

He stands by his father, who has borne the brunt of the criticism of the ruling three-member bloc on the school board, and his father's vision for the school district.

"We believe, not that he's perfect, but that he's doing the best he can," Kirk said. "I really believe that most of the anger towards him is from a small group of people who had things the way they wanted, and they got changed, and they hated him for that. ... I'd love to sit down and talk to those people but I don't think I'm ever going to get the opportunity, so I'm talking to the other people."

But school district politics and the attempted recall have followed Kirk into the city council race: One of his six rivals for the two open seats is Russ Blewett, the father of the woman who spearheaded the recall attempt against Kirk's father.

"I've decided to put that behind us," Kirk said. "It doesn't benefit us in the election. It doesn't benefit the city."

And if both men were elected, any bad blood that still existed would stay out of the council chambers, he said.

"His [political] issues sound awfully familiar to my issues. ... You have to be discerning enough to know when to fight."

Both Kirks have been the targets of criticism and outright attacks in the letters to the editor in area newspapers and on local newspaper Web sites, and Kirk said he's prepared for more of that, even as he hopes other voters come to know him a bit better, as distinct from his father.

"People who want to discourage Kirks need to understand us a bit better."

Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.