Businessman Chris Kennedy, son of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and nephew of President John F. Kennedy, announced his run for governor of Illinois on Wednesday Feb. 8, to current Gov. Republican Bruce Rauner’s dismay. Kennedy, an alum of our very own Kellogg School of Management, took to Twitter to notify the public of his campaign, stating he’s running “to fix the mess in Illinois.”
I’m running for governor to fix the mess in Illinois. Watch my announcement, then RT to spread the word. href="https://t.co/mNKhgrFHgi">https://t.co/mNKhgrFHgi— Chris Kennedy (@KennedyforIL) February 8, 2017
Kennedy’s gubernatorial run will be his first attempt to be elected for public office. Originally from Boston, Kennedy moved to Illinois 30 years ago and has being highly involved with solving the issue of hunger in the United States. He was the former Chairman of the Board of the Greater Chicago Food Depository, which is “the nation’s leading nonprofit food distribution and training center.” Kennedy also manages a nonprofit called Top Box Foods with his wife, Sheila. The two founded the nonprofit to make high quality, nutritious food more affordable for those living in less fortunate neighborhoods.
Before becoming a businessman, Kennedy attended Boston College, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in political science. He’s worked on several political campaigns in the past including his uncle Sen. Edward Moore Kennedy’s campaign in 1980 for the Democratic nominee for president and his brother Joseph Patrick Kennedy II’s reelection campaign to the House in 1988.
A few years after Kennedy settled in Illinois, he served as chairman of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees at the Champaign campus for six years. He was appointed by former Democratic Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and during his term he increased financial aid for students and revised the administration and admissions process.
Kennedy was also the president of Merchandise Mart, one of Chicago’s elite international business hotspots and the world’s largest commercial building. Currently, he’s working with Wolf Point to bring 2,000 construction jobs to Illinois as part of their real estate development project in downtown Chicago. Wolf Point is a series of three rental towers being developed at the junction of the north and south branches of the Chicago River and this part of the project will focus on building Wolf Point’s eastern tower.
Taking on a corrupt state like Illinois will be tough, but Kennedy is determined to fix the state of Illinois’ government “through fundamental change.” In the video announcing his run, he says that he’s “seen from different vantage points the potential of the state, and then the failings of the government.” With his experience in business, and his family’s history of civic engagement, Kennedy hopes that job creation will help bring change and regenerate Illinois.
A race between Rauner and Kennedy could mean big things for Illinois’ Democratic party. Rauner has been unable to secure a state budget since he became governor and has been focusing on other laws such as ones about workers’ compensation and term limits. What’s sparking interest in Illinois Democrats is the fact that Kennedy could be an even match for a wealthy businessman like Rauner. Rauner has already invested $50 million of his own funds toward his re-election campaign for the 2018 March primary and according to the Chicago Tribune, Kennedy says he’ll have “the resources to compete.”
The “mess” Kennedy’s referring to is the poor condition of Illinois’ economy and the state government budget problem. Kennedy credits Rauner as the source of the economic crisis in Illinois for not solving the state’s budget problem, but Rauner has time left in his term to work “on getting a balanced budget with structural changes to our system,” with the state GOP before the March 2018 primary.
In light of Kennedy’s announcement, Rauner and Illinois’ Republican party have gone on the offensive. Instead of just criticizing Kennedy, the Republicans are blaming Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan for the state’s nonexistent budget. Madigan has held the position of speaker for 31 years and in the past worked with former governor Rod Blagojevich, having similar problems with state spending as Illinois is experiencing now.
Illinois has been without a budget since July 2015 and only has been able to work with a six month temporary spending plan that was established in June 2016. The six month budget expired Sunday Jan. 8, 2017, leaving Rauner and Madigan just where they started.
The Republican party said that Kennedy “is committed to the Madigan Agenda” and is a “Madigan lap dog” on their anti-Madigan website, Bossmadigan.com. The post bashes Kennedy for privately meeting with Madigan and includes a video citing Madigan’s statement in response to Kennedy’s announcement. But that’s not all. Those strongly opposed to Madigan’s role in Illinois’ legislature and to Kennedy continuing Madigan’s power can donate to a WatchDog fund.