The sedate, wood-paneled dining room at the near North Side restaurant was an unlikely locale for a declaration of war.
But there was Chris Kennedy on Thursday, exhorting supporters about his plan for government reform.
The Democratic gubernatorial candidate charges that Illinois politicians engage in “crony capitalism,” a corrupt system to benefit themselves and their wealthy friends, at the expense of the rest of us.
“A small group of government suppliers, regulated industries and billionaire families have combined to support candidates who in turn, as elected officials, give them government contracts, lower taxes and looser regulations,” he declared. “It’s crony capitalism on a massive scale beyond anything this country has ever experienced.”
That means war with the powerful leaders of his own party, who, he says, cozy up to corporate interests and wealthy donors to build prisons, peddle privatization schemes and suppress voter participation.
Kennedy offered a raft of reforms to voter participation, campaign finance and ethics in his half-hour speech. Some new, like moving primary election dates from the freezing winter of February to summery June.
Others have been around for years, like drawing fair maps for political equitable representation. His reforms will “prevent the destruction of democracy in Illinois,” Kennedy’s press release trumpeted.
The lifelong Democrat says his party is cowed by the likes of Bruce Rauner and his uber-wealthy friends. “The Democrats have become desperate. “They now believe that to compete Democrats must adopt the same behavior as those who have tried to oppress us. We are mimicking behavior that we should abhor.”
That’s a volley at Kennedy’s chief rival, billionaire J.B. Pritzker, who enjoys widespread support from the state’s Democratic honchos.
Kennedy called for an elected school board for Chicago, not a fave of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
And he urged a ban on campaign contributions to local elected tax assessors and their political organizations, natch, a shot at Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan and Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios.
Kennedy positions himself as an outsider. That’s a stretch for a multimillionaire real estate magnate from Chicago’s North Shore, the scion of the most iconic family in politics. His uncle, John F. Kennedy, won the presidency in 1960 with a big assist from Richard J. Daley’s Democratic Machine.
In 1968, Chris’s father, Robert F. Kennedy, ran for president. Like the father, Chris Kennedy reaches for lofty, idealist rhetoric, calling his campaign a “crusade” for change.
Cook County Clerk and progressive Democrat David Orr stopped by.
His reaction to the speech? “Dynamite,” Orr responded. “It reminded me of 1968.” The year RFK ran, and the 60s’ political revolution was in full swing.
No state in the nation needs a revolution more than Illinois.
When you declare war on a political party, you can be sure its leaders will respond at a nuclear level.
The Kennedy campaign must organize a voter revolt.
Will voters even show up? As Kennedy noted, 500,000 people voted in Illinois’ last Democratic gubernatorial primary, out of 12.8 million statewide.
“The winner only needed 2 percent of the people in the state to win. That makes our government incredibly susceptible to a small number of people controlling the outcome of every election.”
Those people don’t plan to give that up.
Will beaten-down, cynical voters respond to reform in the age of Bruce Rauner and Donald J. Trump?
Or is the time for “Yes, We Can” long gone?
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