By MONICA STABILE
Businessman Christopher Kennedy, son of the late Robert Kennedy and nephew of the late President John F. Kennedy, is making a run for Illinois governor to unseat Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner in the upcoming 2018 election.
Kennedy, the second challenger to announce a bid against Rauner, has never held public office before. However, he said his love for Illinois and the state heading in “the wrong direction” under Rauner’s leadership influenced his decision to enter the gubernatorial race.
Chicago Ald. Ameya Pawar, representing the 47th Ward, was the first Democratic candidate to announce a bid for governor.
Kennedy said he has what it takes to turn the state around using his business expertise and his experience helping communities.
“I love this state, and I want my kids to have great jobs and long careers here,” Kennedy said. “I think that’s pretty much the same hope that every parent has for their kids and every community member has for the next generation.”
When asked what factors would influence his decisions if elected, Kennedy said that he grew up with values that taught him to respect immigrants, help the poor and have a Catholic identity.
“That notion of social justice is critical to our beliefs of how we conduct ourselves,” he said. “Illinois citizens will believe the decisions that I make as governor will be influenced by all of those factors and therefore I’ll be a more thoughtful and considerate leader than they have right now.”
Kennedy is the former president of the Merchandise Mart and former chairman of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees. Citing that experience, Kennedy says he knows how to attract business investors to Illinois, adding that it doesn’t involve Rauner’s pro-business “Turnaround Agenda.”
Kennedy said he’s dealt with thousands of companies in his 25 years of working at the Merchandise Mart and has never been confronted by businesses demanding any of the elements of the Turnaround Agenda as a condition for doing business in Chicago.
“Not one of them ever said, ‘I’d love to come in and make money in Chicago, but I don’t like the way you draw your districts for state representatives,’ ” Kennedy said, referring to Rauner’s push for changes to Illinois’ redistricting process.
Kennedy said business owners have likewise never mentioned tort reform or workers’ compensation.
Calling the Turnaround Agenda an “illusion,” Kennedy said businesses are more concerned with Illinois’ lack of a state budget, citing their reluctance of investing in Illinois due to the instability and unpredictability of state government.
“Businesses, banks, (and other) financial institutions are now hesitant to loan money or to invest in companies that make their money in Illinois,” Kennedy said. “They’re afraid of this state now, andGovernor Rauner’s failure as a leader has brought that on.”
Kennedy stresses the importance of a state budget because of how it has severely affected the state’s ability to help its most vulnerable residents. Kennedy blames Rauner for failing to pass a budget, saying it is “unprecedented in the United States, that level of failure.” Kennedy said that there is nothing in the Turnaround Agenda so important that it takes priority over passing a budget and restoring predictability to state government.
“I want government to help people, not to hurt them,” Kennedy said. “I think a governor is there to heal, not to hurt; to help, not to hinder; to make the cities, the towns and the communities we live in across the state better for everybody who lives there.”
Contrasting his career with Rauner’s former job as a private equity executive, Kennedy said Rauner made money by “tearing things down, buying things and selling off the parts.” “He made his money by firing people,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy said his own career revolved around building things, adding that he created jobs by expanding businesses in the Merchandise Mart.
“I think those experiences color our view of government,” Kennedy said.
He said he would accept campaign contributions, but that he is committed to investing in the campaign by “putting my money where my mouth is.”
Kennedy and his wife, Sheila, are co-founders of Top Box Foods, a non-profit organization that provides affordable food to communities in Chicago. Kennedy also serves as chairman of his family’s investment firm, Joseph P. Kennedy Enterprises.