Chris Kennedy comes out swinging, calls Gov. Rauner ‘heartless’

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Chris Kennedy announced his candidacy for governor with an email and a campaign video. | Screenshot

SPRINGFIELD — Businessman Chris Kennedy threw daggers at Gov. Bruce Rauner on Wednesday after announcing he’s running for governor — saying Rauner is “heartless” and will go down as “the worst governor in Illinois history” if he doesn’t end the state budget impasse before the election next year.

“I think one of the most important things about running now is to let Gov. Rauner know that unless he’s fixing things, he’s one and done. He needs to know that. He will not be re-elected. He will go down as the worst governor in Illinois history unless he steps up with a balanced budget and puts the state on the right track,” Kennedy told the Chicago Sun-Times. “If he does that, maybe he can get re-elected. And that’s his only hope.”

Kennedy, the son of the late Robert F. Kennedy, announced his candidacy as a Democrat via a video sent to supporters. Chicago Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed broke the news about Kennedy’s announcement.

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It’s clear Kennedy’s campaign will be focused on attacking Rauner, a Republican who is locked in a historic budget battle with the Illinois General Assembly. Rauner and Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, have butted heads since Rauner’s election — with the two at odds over many of the governor’s preferred reforms.

Kennedy is among the first Democrats to announce a gubernatorial bid. Chicago Ald. Ameya Pawar has already announced, and businessman J.B. Pritzker is expected to follow suit.

Kennedy — who formerly managed the Merchandise Mart and is now involved in the massive Wolf Point real estate development in River North — sought to differentiate himself from Rauner.

“I believe that negotiation is compromise. I don’t believe that compromise is surrender,” Kennedy said. Rauner “doesn’t understand how to get people to work with him unless he’s paying them, and this must be a very frustrating experience. I think that differentiates us entirely.”

Kennedy called Rauner “ambitious,” “smart” and “bright,” but “heartless.”

“He has no heart and if you have no heart you can’t be part of a team — and you can’t get others to go out of their way to sacrifice for you,” Kennedy said. “What leader does not sacrifice? Every great leader sacrifices and has asked others to sacrifice. He’s never done that. A heartless leader who makes no sacrifice doesn’t deserve to keep the job.”

The Rauner-led Illinois Republican Party on Tuesday released its own attack on Kennedy, launching a website and dubbing Kennedy a “Madigan lap dog.”

“Mike Madigan has already endorsed Chris Kennedy’s run because he knows that Kennedy will never stand up to him. Chris Kennedy secretly met with Madigan this summer to kiss his ring and get Madigan’s blessing,” party spokesman Steven Yaffe said in a statement. “Kennedy’s already done his part to placate his boss, giving Madigan thousands to fund his anti-reform attack ads. We need a governor who will fight for reform, not another Mike Madigan-first politician.”

Kennedy called that messaging “insulting to the voters.”

“The voters are too smart to fall for that. They know that I’m going to be an independent voice,” Kennedy said.

“I know the speaker and I think he’ll, as head of the Democratic Party, run a good primary — a fair and open one. And so be it,” Kennedy said when asked about his relationship with Madigan.

Kennedy accused Rauner of engaging in “revenge politics,” which he said is “foreign” to him as a member of a political family.

“Kennedys have for years had fights with other politicians, but it never occurred to any member of our family ever to engage in retribution against a town, or a community or a people, to use people as pawns in some political game,” Kennedy said. “To throw a million people out of government programs so that you could create pressure on state reps and state senators to vote, to capitulate,” Kennedy said. “That’s sick. And that sort of thing needs to be replaced.”

As for claims he’s not comfortable speaking with the media, Kennedy laughed off the criticism. Last year at an Illinois Democratic Party breakfast at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Kennedy was caught off-guard after being cornered in an elevator by reporters. That video, too, was used in the state Republican Party’s attacks.

“I’m very comfortable with the press. I was hurried – late for a meeting,” Kennedy said. “Clearly my elevator speech needs a little bit of work. “

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