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Chicago-Area Residents to Attend Obama's State of the Union

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    Two Chicago-area residents will be watching President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union address Tuesday as guests of local politicians. NBC 5's Mary Ann Ahern reports. (Published Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016)

    Two Chicago-area residents will be watching President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union address Tuesday as guests of local politicians.

    Mark Filler will attend the speech as Sen. Mark Kirk’s guest and Loretta Coleman will be Congressman Tammy Duckworth’s guest.

    Filler has been a strong advocate for drug prevention and treatment following the death of his 23-year-old son Jordan.

    “It’s on the treatment side, not just throwing somebody in jail, that’s not going to help,” Filler said. “If one kid or hundreds or thousands can end up not suffering that fate because of efforts like our foundation and lots of others in this country it’s well well well worth it.”

    Coleman is a former Air Force veteran who now manages a VA food pantry in Chicago. She’s hoping the president will make funding for mental health programs a priority.

    “One of the biggest issues I would say is mental health care,” she said.

    The two join the list of Chicago-area residents attending the speech, including two who will be sitting with Michelle Obama -- Gloria Balenski, of Schaumburg and Cedric Rowland, of Chicago.

    But the high-profile spot in the first lady's box will be notably empty in honor of victims of gun violence "who no longer have a voice."

    "Their absence means something to this country," President Barack Obama told grassroots supporters Friday. "They need the rest of us to speak for them. To tell their stories. To honor their memory."

    The president said he hopes the empty seat will be a reminder of those who have been killed, and a message to Congress that "it’s their responsibility to do something about this." Obama has accused the gun lobby of taking Congress hostage.

    Obama is expected to make the case for tougher gun control laws during his speech Tuesday. The series of proposals, which the administration first unveiled on Tuesday, are designed to close holes in the federal background check system for gun purchases, devote millions of additional dollars to mental health services, and develop smart gun technology.

    The White House says Edith Childs of South Carolina and Earl Smith of Austin, Texas, will also attend the State of the Union as the president's guests.

    Childs was a councilmember in Greenwood County when she and then-Illinois Sen. Obama met in June 2007. He credits her with coining the "Fired up! Ready to go!" call-and-response that became a rallying cry for his campaigns.

    Smith, a Vietnam veteran, was head of security at an Austin hotel when he met Obama in February 2008.

    Since taking office in 2003, Obama has had a total of 23 guests sit with the first lady at the State of the Union. They have included a bank president, a single mother and a small business owner.
     

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