EDITORIAL: A lesson for Chris Kennedy in how not to play the race card

SHARE EDITORIAL: A lesson for Chris Kennedy in how not to play the race card

Chicago businessman and Democratic candidate for Illinois Gov. Chris Kennedy. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)

A “totalitarian regime?”

And here we thought we lived in Chicago, a city struggling with problems of violence, poverty and racism, but full of people — including more than a few in City Hall — making a good-faith effort to get things right.

You know what kills good faith?

Shouting “racism” for political gain, which seems to be Chris Kennedy’s game.


Again this week, Kennedy, who is running in the Democratic primary for governor, accused Mayor Rahm Emanuel of leading a conscious effort to drive African-Americans out of the city by, in part, allowing crime to rage on in “certain neighborhoods.” Kennedy questioned, once again, not only the mayor’s policies and actions, which we ourselves do all the time, but his personal integrity.

And when a reporter asked about Police Supt. Eddie Johnson’s public rebuke of his comments last week, Kennedy threw a little Stalinist mud on the mayor to boot.

“To use the chief of police for political motives — we don’t believe in that in the United States,” Kennedy told a reporter for the Beverly Review on Sunday. “That’s what they do in places like Russia. That’s what they do in totalitarian regimes. That’s what they do in fascist countries. We’re in a democracy.”

Kennedy is playing a dangerous game. He is playing the race card unfairly, knowing that’s the quickest way to get a headline in Chicago. But playing the race card — in this case without the goods — also is the quickest way to destroy a reputation, divide us against each other, and set back whatever progress in racial fairness our city has made.

“Any jackass can kick down a barn,” a former speaker of the House, Sam Rayburn, once said. “But it takes a good carpenter to build one.”

Kennedy should stop hee-hawing and pick up a hammer.

As Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell wrote last week, there is no doubt that Chicago has seen an exodus of working-class and poor black people. The city’s African-American population has dropped by more than 250,000 people since 2000, which is to say since 11 years before Emanuel first was elected mayor.

But, as Mitchell also wrote, to blame Emanuel for the exodus is to feed “age-old conspiracy theories” instead of “coming up with fresh ideas that would benefit the black community.”

Kennedy’s attack on Emanuel is personal. When he says, as he did last week, that “black people are being pushed out of Chicago intentionally by a strategy that involves disinvestment in communities being implemented by the city administration,” he is accusing the mayor of racism, even if he never utters the word.

So allow us to get a little personal with Kennedy.

On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated by a white man in Memphis. Minutes after hearing the news, Robert F. Kennedy, Chris’ father, was scheduled to give a speech to a largely African-American audience in Indianapolis.

Bobby Kennedy, who was running for president, could have canceled the speech. Advisers, who feared that people might riot, urged him to do so. Or he could have tried to exploit the moment, using King’s assassination to rally the grieving and angry crowd to his candidacy.

Instead, Kennedy delivered a short but perfect speech.

He praised Dr. King as a man who had “died in the cause” of “love and justice between fellow human beings.” He reminded his listeners that he, too, had once suffered a great and violent loss like this.

“For those of you who are black and are tempted to … be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling,” Kennedy said. “I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man.”

Bobby Kennedy’s speech, studied in schools to this day, was a lesson in how not to play the race card.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com.

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