Family becomes fodder in Dem gov race as Kennedy questions Pritzker’s upbringing

SHARE Family becomes fodder in Dem gov race as Kennedy questions Pritzker’s upbringing

Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker (left) speaks at a news conference last month; Chris Kennedy (right) holds a news conference Monday. Photos by Erin Brown/Sun-Times.

Democrat Chris Kennedy on Monday said a series of negative ads paid for by primary rival J.B. Pritzker shows the billionaire lacks the character to be governor — blaming Pritzker’s family for failing to raise him properly.

A spokesman for Pritzker, whose parents both died when he was a boy, called the charges a “low blow” and said “things like family should be off limits.”

Both men come from famous families, and both men have discussed parents in TV ads.

But as the clock ticks on the contentious Democratic primary, Kennedy is now including Pritzker’s family in the broad attacks he’s been making on the rival candidate.

“In Illinois, voters don’t need more lies, more hypocrisy. They need an honest leader with integrity who has a vision to bring radical change to our state,” Kennedy said in his Chicago campaign office. “J.B. Pritzker can’t be honest about himself, so he’s lying about me instead. It’s time for that to end. I’m calling on him to apologize and to stop running those negative ads. He knows it’s false. He should admit to it, and put an end to it.”

The primary is just eight days away and Kennedy is being featured in a series of negative television ads — one attacking statements Kennedy made about taxing retirement income and another about his tenure at the University of Illinois. Pritzker is also running a digital ad that contends Kennedy doesn’t support legalization of marijuana.

Kennedy — the son of Robert F. Kennedy and an heir to the political dynasty — said he believed negative attacks from Pritzker’s campaign are indicative of his values and upbringing. The businessman voiced similar sentiments during a WGN radio interview on Sunday.

“There’s a huge difference between Mr. Pritzker and me. I grew up in a competitive family. The Kennedys were all famously taught at an early age that it’s better to win than to lose. But we were also taught an even more important lesson. That it’s better to lose than to cheat,” Kennedy said. “Those were lessons the Kennedys learned when we were young. Apparently the Pritzkers never taught their kids that lesson. When Pritzker found out he couldn’t win by telling the truth about himself, Pritzker’s now trying to win by telling lies about his competitors.”

RELATED: Chicago Sun-Times 2018 Illinois Primary Voting Guide

Kennedy said on Monday he will not tax retirement income; that he created $100 million in additional scholarships for middle and low-class students at the University of Illinois; and that he does support the legalization of marijuana.

A Pritzker TV ad features people holding up a hand, to show that he voted five times to increase tuition while Kennedy served as chair of the university board. Kennedy said he asked paid employees for an unpaid furlough to meet payroll, “revamped the governance structure.” He said the university released a statement saying the board that he led “drove down the annual increases in tuition, not driving it up.”

Another digital ad targets his views on legalizing marijuana. Kennedy has long said he wants more studies on how to legalize marijuana. On Monday he said he would want a state program run by a “broker like the University of Illinois, not “in the hands of paid lobbyists working for corporate titans, private equity sharks or hedge fund investors.”

Kennedy said he didn’t believe it was a personal attack to go after the Pritzker family.

“I think it goes to somebody’s character and he’s demonstrating his character,” Kennedy said, adding his policy positions are listed on his campaign website.

“You’re really betting on somebody’s values on their character and the truth is when he runs these ads, he reveals a character that is unworthy to sit in the governor’s mansion in Springfield,” Kennedy said.

Pritzker’s campaign said “things like family should be off limits.” Pritzker’s father suffered a heart attack and died when the future candidate was 7, and Pritzker’s mother — who struggled with alcoholism — died in a car accident when Pritzker was 17. His campaign said he was raised by family members, including aunts and uncles.

“Trying to imply that Chris Kennedy’s family is more virtuous than JB’s family is out of line, and lying about his own record on supporting a tax on retirement income is disingenuous,” campaign manager Anne Caprara said in a statement. “This is a low-blow from a candidate on the wrong side of this issue and desperate to resurrect his flailing campaign.”

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