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 Governor 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 Governor 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 5 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 schtick 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.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.