Could a member of the Kennedy political dynasty be the next governor of Illinois?
Democrat Chris Kennedy announced Wednesday that he will run for governor. Kennedy is the son of Robert Kennedy and the nephew of President John Kennedy. Chris Kennedy has spent the past several months talking with consultants and interviewing pollsters about a possible run.
Kennedy, 53, is the former chairman of the Merchandise Mart and is the chairman of the Kennedy family’s investment firm, Joseph P. Kennedy Enterprises Inc. He has never run for an elected office, but has been active in other family members’ campaigns. He and his wife, Sheila, live in the Chicago suburb of Kenilworth with their four children.
Kennedy brings the instant name recognition of his family’s political legacy to what will likely be a sharply contested race to unseat Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.
In an email and video sent to supporters, Kennedy said he’s running because Illinois is heading “in the wrong direction.”
“I moved to Illinois thirty years ago with an enthusiasm for business and a commitment to serve. Today, I am announcing my run for governor because I love Illinois, but we have never been in worse shape,” he said. “We don’t need incremental improvement — we need fundamental change in state government.”
I moved to Illinois thirty years ago with an enthusiasm for business and a commitment to serve. Today, I am announcing my run for governor because I love Illinois, but we have never been in worse shape.
It didn’t take Rauner long to respond to Kennedy’s announcement.
“Chris Kennedy announced his bid for Gov.,” Rauner tweeted from his personal account, @Bruce Rauner. “Now we need your help to hold another Madigan crony accountable. #twill”
The former chairman of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees, Kennedy founded and now leads Top Box Foods, a nonprofit organization that provides affordable, healthy food to Chicago neighborhoods.
He also serves as chairman of Joseph P. Kennedy Enterprises Inc., the Kennedy family’s investment firm. He previously managed a real estate company whose holdings included Chicago’s Merchandise Mart.
Kennedy has flirted with running for public office before — including a bid for U.S. Senate — but didn’t follow through.
He surfaced as a top contender for governor after he spoke to the Illinois delegation to the Democratic National Convention last summer. Kennedy ripped Rauner’s pro-business legislative agenda and blamed him for Illinois’ more than one-year state budget stalemate, saying he’s inflicting “suffering and chaos” on Illinois.
House Speaker Michael Madigan, who leads the Democratic Party of Illinois, said at the time Kennedy would make an “excellent candidate.”
That drew an attack from the Illinois GOP, which has worked to link any potential rivals to Madigan, Rauner’s staunchest opponent at the Illinois Capitol.
“Mike Madigan endorsing a run for governor by Chris Kennedy tells you everything you need to know about Chris Kennedy,” Illinois Republican Party spokesman Steven Yaffe said. “Chris Kennedy secretly kissed Mike Madigan’s ring months ago because he knows Madigan is the real boss.”
Mike Madigan endorsing a run for governor by Chris Kennedy tells you everything you need to know about Chris Kennedy.
Illinois GOP chairman Steven Yaffee
Kennedy has considerable personal wealth that could help fund a campaign against Rauner, who late last year put $50 million of his personal fortune into his re-election fund.
But first Kennedy could face a difficult Democratic primary. Chicago Alderman Ameya Pawar already has announced he’s seeking the nomination, and other Democrats are considering bids, including billionaire businessman J.B. Pritzker, state Sen. Andy Manar and U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos.
The Associated Press contribued to this report.