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STEINBERG: Why would anybody want to be governor of Illinois?

Illinois gubernatorial candidate Chris Kennedy

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Kennedy. | Sun-Times files

“The guy I really like is Dan Biss,” I said. “He’s a very in-the-trenches politician. I attended a seminar he held for seniors in Glenview, trying to help them navigate Medicare. Once I was at my sister-in-law’s in Skokie, and he knocked on the door, to talk about issues.

“So I felt guilty, seeing what he’s up against running for governor and wanted to do what I could. So I called his press office. Talked to one of the kids there. They never called me back, but at least now I can comfort myself that I tried.”

“What you need to do is call him directly,” said Chris Kennedy, as we dug into our scrambled eggs on the riverside patio at Chicago Cut.

Only later did I reflect on the ludicrousness of the exchange. I don’t know which is stranger — that I would tell Kennedy, also running for governor, that I prefer someone else, or that Kennedy would offer me a helpful tip for getting in touch with his rival.


I had begun our conversation with, “Why would you want to be governor? If history is any judge, odds are 50-50 you’ll end up in prison.”

“I don’t know . . .,” Kennedy mused. “I come from a long line of people who thought politics was an honorable profession.”

“And you still believe that?”

“I don’t think you should be in leadership and in the supply chain at the same time,” Kennedy said. “If you are, it makes it really hard to understand what’s right and what’s wrong.”

We talked about our broken educational system, particularly in Chicago.

“We need to fix the outcome in our high schools which means we need to fix the funding formula which means we need to fix the reliance on property taxes,” Kennedy said, adding that everyone knows this.

“Why don’t they fix it then?”

“Because our leadership is property tax appeals lawyers.”

Michael Madigan certainly is. And Ald. Ed Burke. But a system where the rich get great schools and the poor folks get whatever crumbs can be scraped together seems a highly resilient model that would survive any attempts to alter it.

No room to go into the full chat. Kennedy’s perspective, in my eyes, is pre-Trumpian, if not antique, predicated upon a quaint belief in both the basic responsibility of voters and a civic-minded decency in leaders that no longer exists, assuming it ever did.

I can’t get excited about the governor’s race. The election is 15 months away. Plus, I have a sinking certainty in my gut how it all turns out: the cash Death Star of J.B. Pritzker vaporizes both Biss and Kennedy — a Charlie Brown cry of “How can we lose when we’re so sincere?” and then a pile of ash blown away by the wind.

In November 2018, assuming the country hasn’t devolved into anarchy by then, Pritzker loses to Gov. Bruce Rauner, because the disgust Chicagoans feel at Rauner’s whole C. Montgomery Burns act, his disdain for the poor and the sick, evaporates past the cornfields ringing the city.

There people see a gaunt successful businessman in a Carhartt jacket, droppin’ his Gs, squintin’, bravely battlin’ an alien overlord named My-Kill Mad-Again, who certainly demonizes up well. I don’t think there is enough TV commercial airtime in the world to make people in Kane County look up from their plows and muse, “You know, maybe I’ll vote for the big fat Jewish billionaire.” I hope I’m wrong, hope that this is fat-shaming and self-hatred on my part. Somebody ought to replace this GOP zealot who can’t wrap his head around the fact that the first six letters of the word “governor” spell “govern.”

But if you’ve noticed, we have sailed into a world where unqualified sneering rich guys try to fill the gaping voids where their souls should be by rolling up their sleeves and taking a fling at public office. Not that I put Kennedy in that group. He’s a principled, idealistic, thoughtful man who doesn’t realize that those qualities are now liabilities.