March 08, 2013

Jerry Costello donates his political papers to SIU

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Former U.S. Rep. Jerry F. Costello is donating materials from his more than two decades in Congress to the Special Collections Research Center at Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Morris Library.

There are 705 boxes of records that detail his work with and on behalf of his constituents in Illinois’ 12th Congressional District.

“Rep. Costello’s longstanding support for SIU continues through this donation,” Chancellor Rita Cheng said. “He was an outstanding advocate for our University and for the region, and his papers are a valuable addition because of the important issues he addressed and his many accomplishments.”  

For Costello, a Belleville Democrat who retired Jan. 2 after more than 24 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, the decision as to where to donate materials from his offices in Washington, D.C., Belleville and Carbondale was relatively easy. 

Costello said he and his family have extensive connections to the University as his wife, Georgia, holds two post-baccalaureate SIU Carbondale degrees, while his mother-in-law, sister-in-law and two children are also alumni.  In addition, one grandchild is a senior and another will be attending the University. So when President Glenn Poshard suggested that his friend and former colleague consider making the donation to SIU, Costello readily agreed to make the University the repository for his files.

“SIU Carbondale is an excellent learning institution.  I have a lot of faith in the University and its work,” Costello said.  “I think it is important for officials who have served the public to make their records available to the public and researchers to enable them to look back at the issues and see what the public sentiment and concerns are and how they change through years.  Over the last quarter of a century there have been many issues of importance to the American people come before Congress and these records are very relevant for historical reasons and as changes occur.”

For instance, Costello noted that his papers reflect the health care debate in former President Bill Clinton’s era, as well as the more recent enactment of the Affordable Healthcare Act.  Likewise, he said, gun control has long been a hot topic as have fiscal issues and accountability.  Costello said his records reflect the years of budget deficits and the time in the early 1990s when the federal budget was balanced for the first time in decades.

Costello, a native of East St. Louis, was St. Clair County Board chairman when selected in August 1998 to Congress to fill the vacant seat of the late Rep. Melvin Price. He won his first full term shortly thereafter and served nearly 25 years before retiring.  His tenure spanned the period from the end of the Cold War through wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  It also spanned domestic troubles, including the 1993 floods, the May 2009 derecho, and the February 2012 tornadoes that hit Harrisburg and other parts of the region and much more.

In Congress, Costello attained ranking as senior Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and chaired the aviation subcommittee.  He was also the second-ranking Democrat on the House’s Science, Space and Technology Committee.

Costello was heavily involved in legislation focusing on research and development of clean coal technologies.  During his time in Congress, there were also many improvements in the region’s infrastructure including to bridges on the Mississippi River, expansion of the MetroLink into Illinois, and changes at Scott Air Force Base to preserve and even add Illinois jobs.   Costello also helped author two national highway bills and served on other subcommittees as a ranking member.

A 1973 graduate of Maryville University, Costello is president and CEO of The Jerry Costello Group, which provides services and advocates for government agencies, trade associations and businesses.

Work is under way to sort and catalog Costello’s papers.  Some of the documents will be earmarked for storage, at least for now, due to privacy issues, but the rest will be open for public perusal.  Some records will be available to the public by January 2015, said Pamela Hackbart-Dean, director of the Special Collections Research Center. She noted that from his work on the aviation subcommittee alone, “there are some 42 cubic feet of material, perhaps 100,000 pages of documents.”

The Costello papers join a growing collection that includes records from former U.S. Senators Paul Simon and Roland Burris; former U.S. Representatives Kenneth Gray and Poshard; former St. Louis Mayor Clarence Harmon; former state Sen. Kenneth Buzbee, and former state Sen. Jean Hurley Simon.  The center also houses records of numerous community groups, grass roots organizations and labor unions, in addition to a varied collection of other historical documents and items.

For more information about Morris Library’s Special Collections Research Center, visit the website at, visit the library, or call 618/453-2522.

Costello will discuss his political career and his perceptions on how Congress has changed during his time in political office in a lecture in the Student Center Ballroom B at 7 p.m., March 19.