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Chris Kennedy isn’t ready for prime time

Monday, Jan 29, 2018

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

For a while now, the book on Chris Kennedy has been that he may not be cut out for a career in politics, despite his famous last name and pedigree as the son of Bobby Kennedy and nephew of John F. Kennedy.

That thinking goes all the way back to Kennedy’s disastrous performance after a breakfast speech to Illinois delegates during the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Kennedy had a serious freak-out experience in front of TV cameras as reporters jumped on an elevator with him to ask questions.

The Democratic gubernatorial candidate has had some weird, uncomfortable moments since then, but none so weird and uncomfortable as a recent media availability.

By now, most everyone bothering to read this knows what happened. Kennedy was asked whether Gov. Bruce Rauner is “almost becoming like a super PAC for you as he’s trying to undermine JB Pritzker,” with Rauner’s constant anti-Pritzker hits on property taxes, House Speaker Michael Madigan and imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Kennedy responded by defending the Republican governor. “I think Bruce Rauner is trying to do what he thinks is best for the state of Illinois,” Kennedy said. “Now, we may disagree on what that is, but his willingness to speak truth to power, to take on the powers that have been strangling our economy for decades in this state is something that I think he should be applauded for.”

I kinda get where Kennedy was trying to go there. There is a strong vein within the Democratic Party that despises the party’s powers that be. By attacking powerful and unpopular Democrats, Kennedy believes he can reach those sorts of folks and also immunize himself against attacks by Rauner during the fall election (I doubt it’ll work because Rauner will use his favorite “Blame Madigan!” issue no matter who the nominee is, but whatever).

Before he can take on Rauner in the fall, however, Kennedy has to win a Democratic primary this spring. I shouldn’t have to even say this, but Democrats don’t usually win Democratic primaries by going out of their way to heap compliments on an incumbent Republican who polls worse among Democratic primary voters than … well, just go ahead and complete that sentence yourself with the worst possible thing you can imagine.

There were plenty of other ways to say what Kennedy said without patting Bruce Rauner on the back. You’d think just about any half-competent candidate could come up with a few if pressed as Kennedy was last week. That this was the way he chose to answer the question shows as much about Kennedy’s abilities as a candidate as his abject failure to raise significant campaign funds.

There was also a blowup last week when Kennedy pulled a no-class stunt during a candidates’ forum. He was asked to say something nice about the other candidates, but Kennedy said he just couldn’t say anything positive about his billionaire rival Pritzker.

Kennedy most definitely didn’t come off as a happy warrior during that forum. He seemed grumpy the whole time. But not many people actually watched it. That’s the biggest mistake too often made by people in this business. We all follow state politics closely, but we forget that few others do. Even so, I would venture a guess that if “normal” people do hear anything about the forum through their various networks, Kennedy’s insult will be high on that list.

What struck me the most, however, was something I haven’t seen reported elsewhere.

Kennedy said he wanted to put another billion dollars a year into higher education, and the forum’s moderator Carol Marin asked him how he would pay for it.

“There’s two buildings in Chicago that are so under-assessed relative to their sales price, there’s a billion dollars of missing value from them alone,” Kennedy declared. “That should pay five percent a year in taxes. That’s $50 million a year.”

While I have no problem with booting Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios from office, I don’t think the man can be blamed for underfunded state universities. Kennedy is apparently so caught up in his property tax reform shtick that it has become his go-to answer on pretty much everything. Property taxes are local revenues. The state doesn’t get a cut.

Kennedy’s response was one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard proposed by a supposedly legitimate candidate for governor — and that’s really saying something. With early voting about to begin, Kennedy still hasn’t demonstrated that he’s ready for prime time.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - illinois manufacturer - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 9:04 am:

    Stick a fork in this race. I think atty gen is really wide open. Quinn may be well known but unliked and the others are really statewide unknowns.Any other interesting primaries….Ives is amusing but that is about it. Slverstein still on ballot?

  2. - Anon - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 9:10 am:

    Prob premature to say stick a fork in it, but, unless there is a real bombshell that nobody sees coming, this remains JB’s race to lose.

  3. - Illinois Resident - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 9:10 am:

    Agreed Kennedy is not ready for prime time and probably will never be. How has “speaking truth to power” helped our State the last 3 years with Rauner in office. I don’t agree with the premise but even if you do, it has not worked. Governors have to lead and work with people.

  4. - jake - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 9:12 am:

    With Kennedy sinking out of sight, and Biss having a few million in the bank (even though JB has a few BILLION, but how can you spend that much?) maybe this Governor’s thing will be a race after all…

  5. - wordslinger - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 9:12 am:

    The inability of Kennedy and Bill Daley to raise the funds to run a big-kid campaign has been surprising and revealing. The smart money wrote them off long ago.

  6. - Arsenal - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 9:12 am:

    Credit where it’s due, pretty sure A Guy called all of this, plus or minus a little backsliding during the “Rahm Emmanuel is racist” era of the campaign.

  7. - Arsenal - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 9:15 am:

    ==The inability of Kennedy and Bill Daley to raise the funds to run a big-kid campaign has been surprising and revealing.==

    I’d really like to know how that happened. I’m sure JB asked some “Usual Suspect” donors to sit on the sidelines, but not all of them would listen to him, and the Kennedys should have access to a national fundraising network. I suspect CK just didn’t want to make the calls. Who does?

  8. - illinois manufacturer - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 9:19 am:

    With Biss picking at the scab of his failed pension crusade I dont see how this is a race. One of the reasons the democratic establishment got so hated was going after their base.Pat I was put on Earth to cut pensions Quinn.

  9. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 9:21 am:

    ===Credit where it’s due, pretty sure A Guy called all of this, plus or minus a little backsliding during the… .===

    Before you get too carried away, lol, the applauding Rauner, family history, personal history, “whatever”, that gaffe isn’t a gaffe until we see more coordination, true or passive, from the Rauner Crew to decide “all was forseen, but”

    Rich is On It, my only wrinkle is, how much of these missteps now are Bill Daley and Chris Kennedy, knowing the end is near, helping Rauner “because sour grapes”

  10. - Retired Educator - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 9:25 am:

    He tried to ride the name Having the last name Ruth doesn’t make you a ball player. A candidate has to have real ideas, and a vision for the future Kennedy has yet to show these. He is toast.

  11. - Grandson of Man - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 9:27 am:

    Praising Rauner and legitimizing what he’s done to the state would have killed it off for me if Kennedy didn’t fail to support marijuana legalization earlier.

    “strangling our economy for decades”

    I’m sure Chis and Bruce have done quite well. We know Rauner’s income skyrocketed since he’s become governor.

  12. - Arsenal - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 9:32 am:

    ==that gaffe isn’t a gaffe until we see more coordination==

    Yeah, maybe that’s a gaffe and maybe that’s a plan, but it exists in and is consistent with a larger pattern- poor fundraising, lackadaisical public appearances, other gaffes, and a running-mate search that would’ve been widely regarded as a fiasco if Biss hadn’t turned his into a catastrophe. It all points to a candidate who doesn’t know what he’s doing and isn’t interested in learning.

  13. - morningstar - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 9:56 am:

    Kennedy’s ham-handed attempts to present himself as a feminist candidate, which you reported here in Sept., have stuck in my mind. Still, I reserved judgement and watched, but he’s gotten only worse. I don’t have much respect left for him.

  14. - Sputnik - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 10:20 am:

    Didn’t Kennedy at least start the conversation about tax assessments? I’m all ears to sensible reform. Kennedy had already lost in my mind before the gaffes. I am curious how he responds to the awful coverage he received last week.

  15. - Anon0091 - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 10:21 am:

    “I’d really like to know how that happened. I’m sure JB asked some “Usual Suspect” donors to sit on the sidelines, but not all of them would listen to him, and the Kennedys should have access to a national fundraising network.”

    The most revealing fact is that Kennedy’s own family was rather tepid in their support. No six figure contributions. Hell, the largest five figure Kennedy contributions we saw were for $10,000. Biss received far larger checks from his family.

    If Kennedy’s family was unwilling to go all-in, why should other donors?

  16. - Anonymous - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 10:29 am:

    Appreciate the tap, Ars. Willy, If you’ve been paying attention (and no one pays more attention here than you do) Ars isn’t a guy who tosses roses my way regularly.
    Chris just isn’t the guy for this. Never was. I wish he didn’t run. I really do like him.

  17. - Arsenal - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 10:33 am:

    ==Ars isn’t a guy who tosses roses my way regularly.==

    Well, you’re usually wrong. ;)

    (Hell, even *this* rose had a little thorn on it…)

  18. - Arsenal - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 10:37 am:

    ==The most revealing fact is that Kennedy’s own family was rather tepid in their support. No six figure contributions.==

    Although at some point I wonder how much Kennedy money is still out there. Joe made his nut a long time ago, and it’s split between a lot of family members, after all.

  19. - Lucky Pierre - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 10:40 am:

    One of the stupidest things I’ve seen in a long time is a billionaire, political insider, tax avoider who is promising all kinds of new spending, to every single democratic special interest group.

    All in a state with enormous budget deficits that will all magically disappear if the rich finally start paying their fair share, not any cuts to favored constituencies. This was quite a huge hurdle to jump given our state constitution but it just got tougher because of the change in Federal tax law that hurts SALT tax deductions.

    Can’t beat that for chutzpah.

  20. - a drop in - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 10:55 am:

    Chris Kennedy on FB: “It’s time for CHANGE. Let’s build the Blue Wave and turn our state Red to Blue.”

    not a good slogan - gov office needs to turn, not state.

  21. - Midwesterner - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 11:00 am:

    The Chris Kennedy campaign has been a terrible disappointment. While the cliched “six weeks is a long time in politics may be applicable, the sad truth is his ship has been sinking deeper and deeper.The great shame is Chris is one of those people who is a far better public servant than candidate.

    While it is difficult for a campaign to outperform its candidate, it must be said that the political, operations/logistics and financial elements of the campaign have all been terrible. It seems the team is excessively enamored of the way JFK’s races were run in the late ’40s and the 50s. They simply have not gotten the memo that parachuting numerous siblings and cousins into the state isn’t going to generate or sway voters.

    Along the same lines, the myth of the invincible Bill Daley stubbornly refuses to die and probably won’t until Sneed hangs ‘em up. While he is a bright guy and can put money together, his skills are more in the nature of deal making and lobbying rather than creating and implementing strategies and tactics that win 21st century elections.

    The only hope I see for the campaign is for Chris to get on the phone and raise money ASAP and to start really honing in on the mess that is Illinois goverment and why he is the best equipped to fix it.

  22. - Arsenal - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 11:05 am:

    ==This was quite a huge hurdle to jump given our state constitution but it just got tougher because of the change in Federal tax law that hurts SALT tax deductions.==

    Goodness, you’re shameless.

  23. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 11:10 am:

    ===…not any cuts to favored constituencies.===

    Wasn’t it you that lamented that cutting the budget was already “impossible” given all the required spending?

    So is it required spending yuh can’t cut or spending that can easily be cut but chosen not to be cut?

  24. - Not a Billionaire - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 11:28 am:

    Forbes had the Kennedy family at 1.5 billion or 40 million per Kennedy so I think it means unlike Rauner they are not going to light money on fire. It reminds me of how little the Tracts gave in that race. It might have made a difference. It won’t in Kennedy.Btw the Tracys are estimated at 1.5 billion or 20 million a piece. The Pritzgers are 30 billion and average 2.5 billion. They are the 7th richest family. He has spent an average Kennedy net worth and not really noticed.

  25. - Responsa - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 11:37 am:

    In the same newspaper Kadner took the position (with examples) that no one running for governor is “ready for prime time”. Sadly, it was a pretty compelling argument.

  26. - A guy - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 12:10 pm:

    == (Hell, even *this* rose had a little thorn on it…)===

    You’re consistent, that’s for sure.

  27. - Anon589 - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 12:42 pm:

    ==The most revealing fact is that Kennedy’s own family was rather tepid in their support. No six figure contributions…

    If Kennedy’s family was unwilling to go all-in, why should other donors?”===

    That’s just untrue. His in-laws have given over 100k. Whatever the case with Kennedy’s relatives in MA, the fact remains that his family in IL has been quite supportive.

  28. - Rich Miller - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 2:17 pm:

    ===His in-laws have given over 100k===


    Seriously? You wrote that without snark?

  29. - Anon589 - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 3:01 pm:

    @Rich Miller
    I don’t see the humor. Please explain

  30. - Anon0091 - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 4:31 pm:

    And to be clear, for me $10,000 would be huge. But I’m not a Kennedy.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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