Our Pledge To You

News

Chris Kennedy earns slow handclap for his Rauner applause line

Chris Kennedy, left, in February 2017. File Photo. | AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast. Gov. Bruce Rauner, center, in July 2017. File Photo. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times. J.B. Pritzker, right, in July 2017. File Photo. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

It’s obviously been very helpful to Chris Kennedy’s underfunded campaign for governor that Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner is sinking millions of dollars into campaign commercials slamming Kennedy’s chief Democratic rival, billionaire J.B. Pritzker.

But does Kennedy have to sound so appreciative?

That was the question Friday after Kennedy set off a firestorm of intra-party criticism for opining that Rauner “should be applauded” for running attack ads against Pritzker before the Democratic primary.

OPINION

If that was all Kennedy said, he might not have caused such a big fuss. But he also praised Rauner for “trying to do what he thinks is best for the state of Illinois” and for being “willing to speak truth to power.”

Ahem. Bruce Rauner? The guy who is almost physically incapable of saying Donald Trump’s name aloud let alone criticize him? Speaking truth to power?

Only when what Rauner is saying serves his own political interests.

Perhaps having made the same political enemies as Rauner — House Speaker Mike Madigan, Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios and Mayor Rahm Emanuel — Kennedy’s perceptions are clouded in that regard.

Kennedy’s comments provided a welcome opening for the Pritzker campaign, only too eager to take the spotlight off the Rauner ads, which feature embarrassing FBI wiretap recordings of Pritzker sucking up to Rod Blagojevich for a possible political appointment in 2008 shortly before the then-governor’s arrest.

A Pritzker spokeswoman immediately questioned whether Kennedy was endorsing Rauner.

Kennedy said he’s been “calling out” Rauner’s “failed leadership” the entire campaign and complained his words had been taken out of context.

So let’s put them in context.

Kennedy had just finished participating in a Chicago Tribune Editorial Board meeting with the other Democratic candidates and was stopped by reporters outside on Michigan Avenue.

ABC7 political reporter Craig Wall asked Kennedy about the irony of Rauner on Thursday taking a similar position to Kennedy about prohibiting state lawmakers such as Madigan from working as property tax appeal lawyers.

“I think to the degree he’s saying we need to get the dirty money out of politics so we can get the dirty politicians out of government, he’s right,” Kennedy said. “I don’t think this is a Republican issue or a Democratic issue. It’s an issue about integrity in government.”

Then Wall asked Kennedy whether the Rauner campaign is essentially serving as a super PAC for Kennedy by funding this early effort to derail Pritzker.

“I think Bruce Rauner is trying to do what he thinks is best for the state of Illinois,” Kennedy said. “And 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.”

Bruce Rauner is trying to do what he thinks is best for Bruce Rauner’s re-election, which in this case also happens to coincide with what might be best for Kennedy’s nomination.

Kennedy might have been better off if he’d limited himself to the last line of a follow-up statement he issued later: “I believe voters have a right to know what’s on those tapes, and I agree that they should’ve been released.”

I agree with him on that much, and I have no problem with Rauner airing the tapes. They offer a unique, unprotected insight into the personality, and yes character, of a major candidate. I don’t find Pritzker’s end of the conversation quite as damning as do Kennedy and Rauner, but it’s open to interpretation.

I made the comment earlier in the week that no matter what they think of each other, the major Democratic candidates must certainly find each other preferable to re-electing Rauner.

Now, I’m not so sure.