Kennedy enters race for governor, but will he stand up to Madigan?
Illinois businessman and philanthropist Chris Kennedy announced his candidacy for the Illinois governor's seat and immediately faced questions regarding House Speaker Mike Madigan (D-Chicago).
"I moved to Illinois 30 years ago with an enthusiasm for business and a commitment to serve," Kennedy said in a YouTube video. "Today, I am announcing my run for governor because I love Illinois, but we have never been in worse shape. We don't need incremental improvement — we need fundamental change in state government."
Speculation arose after the Democratic National Convention last summer, when Kennedy blasted the agenda of current Gov. Bruce Rauner and blamed him for the budget impasse that was over a year old at that time. When pursued into an elevator by reporters, however, Kennedy stumbled in an awkward response to questions regarding a run at governor.
“Have some decency,” Kennedy told the journalists. “What have you become?”
Before Kennedy announced his candidacy, the GOP released an online spot featuring the awkward moment before Kennedy left the elevator and escaped down a stairwell. It implied that Kennedy might not be committed to following the examples set by his late father, Robert Kennedy, and his uncle, President John F. Kennedy.
When asked about the elevator incident, Kennedy said in an emailed statement, "I'll admit, my elevator speech needed a little work, but we've made great progress since last summer. Too bad the same can't be said for Illinois. It's nice to see Gov. Rauner worried about someone besides himself for the first time in two years."
The Illinois Republican Party wasted little time after Kennedy threw his hat in the gubernatorial race. The GOP immediately put up a webpage called MadiganKennedy.com. That link redirects visitors to BossMadigan.com and a new page featuring Kennedy and his ties to Madigan, the Illinois Democratic Party Chair.
The GOP also seized upon Kennedy's endorsement by Madigan as an example of the ties between the powerful speaker and the state's Democratic candidates. When questioned about meeting with Madigan, Kennedy stuttered an acknowledgement that they had met before he announced his candidacy.
“Chris Kennedy’s dodge isn’t going to cut it,” Illinois Republican Party spokesman Steven Yaffe said. “Mike Madigan endorsed Kennedy as an ‘excellent candidate’ for governor and, in return, Kennedy funneled tens of thousands of dollars to Madigan candidates and political groups. It's time for Chris Kennedy to come clean. Does Kennedy endorse or oppose Mike Madigan as speaker and head of the Democratic Party of Illinois?"
The Peoria Journal Star editorial board pointed out that Kennedy had focused his ire on the Republican governor, but did not mention the responsibility of the Democratic majority in the legislature for the state's downward spiral.
"With redistricting coming up soon, this race takes an even bigger importance," Kennedy said in a fundraising email. "We can't let Gov. Rauner and his allies try to gerrymander our maps to elect more Republicans ... who will blindly support President [Donald] Trump."
The charges of Republican gerrymandering appeared odd, since Madigan has been in charge of drawing district maps for 30 years. In general, political races in Illinois are dominated by Democratic candidates, and many candidates even had no Republican opponents in the last general election due to the way district maps have been drawn.
"We get the reluctance of Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls to cross the chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party among the conflicts the speaker has," the Peoria Journal Star noted in its editorial on how Kennedy hesitated to criticize Madigan. "We'd just say that real leadership requires courage, which includes standing up to someone who's been around too long and has gained too much power, to this state's ongoing detriment."