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MITCHELL: Kennedy’s 2014 speech praising Emanuel raises questions

Illinois gubernatorial candidate Chris Kennedy

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Kennedy. | Sun-Times files

It looks like Chris Kennedy may have stepped on his own foot with accusations that Mayor Rahm Emanuel is behind a “strategic gentrification plan” to push blacks out of Chicago.

On Wednesday, while the gubernatorial Democratic candidate was unveiling an economic plan that he claimed would help stem the “mass exodus” of minorities from the city, a YouTube video of Kennedy praising Emanuel’s leadership in 2014 was making the rounds.

The video shows Kennedy, framed by shots of cranes and renderings of a luxury high-rise tower, comparing Emanuel to Joe Kennedy.

“He saw something in Chicago that he thought was extraordinary … It had stable and powerful political leadership, and it had a confident group of business leaders … Those factors were at work 60 years ago, and now with Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s leadership, they are still true in Chicago today,” Kennedy said at the time.

That’s a far cry from the sentiments Kennedy expressed last week when he accused the mayor of being behind a sinister plot to push people of color out of the city.

At the groundbreaking for the Wolf Point project, Kennedy praised the billion-dollar investment being made in the downtown core of Chicago.

Wolf Point is a joint venture between the Kennedy family and three other entities.

“We’ve added 50,000 people to the downtown core in the last few years, which makes it one of the fastest growing residences anywhere in the United States,” Kennedy said then.

Meanwhile, low-income Chicagoans living in areas surrounding the downtown core were being routed from CHA’s public housing.

Kennedy downplayed his support for Emanuel at the Wolf Point event in a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon.

“Rahm Emanuel was our guest at that opening, and we appreciated his presence,” Kennedy told me.

“It was relatively early in his term, and we had great hope that the progress of people moving to the city would continue under Rahm … and that progress would percolate to the rest of the city as well,” he said.

But the downtown core has always been overwhelmingly white and well off. Without an influx of affordable housing, that isn’t likely to ever change.

“We like investing here because such a place is a place where any of the millions of citizens who live here might at one time be a prospect for space in one of our buildings,” Kennedy said in his Wolf Point address.

“If they hold high-paying jobs and their employers are going to locate them in the class A buildings, we hold and operate. If they command great salaries, they are going to be able to afford apartments in the buildings we construct. If they amass wealth, they’ll be able to afford condos in the buildings we design,” he said.

Interestingly enough, usually in a planned development like Wolf Point Tower, a certain number of units have to be set aside for affordable housing. But with the help of a zoning lawyer, the Wolf Point project was able to avoid that requirement.

“It is nearly impossible when a building is 70 stories tall to create affordable housing because the construction cost itself is probably three times more expensive,” Kennedy told me, adding that the zoning for the land was put in place in 1973 when he was in grade school.

“We created a river walk. We created a public park. We did all the things that would make us good neighbors and good corporate citizens. There was no requirement to put in affordable housing,” he pointed out.

“Every time we attract a new resident to our downtown, we make a contribution to our social fabric of Chicago,” Kennedy bragged in 2014.

“Our new residents eat in restaurants and engage in neighborhood activities which provide entry level jobs to low skilled workers at a living wage,” he said.

Frankly, the question should be asked: Who is really doing the pushing — the mayor or wealthy developers like Kennedy?

“The following sentence in my Jan. 11 column regarding Chris Kennedy needs clarification and context: “But with the help of a zoning lawyer, the Wolf Point project was able to avoid that requirement” that affordable housing be part of the ongoing project. A spokesman for Kennedy points out that in 1973 there was o requirement for affordable housing be part of the Wolf Point development.”