His hands shook as he spoke, and he accidentally dropped the microphone when he finished, but Chris Kennedy tried to play it cool Monday as he made his pitch to Cook County Democratic leaders, downplaying — and even joking about — the value of their endorsement in the governor’s race.
“Slating? I don’t know. Is this like the Town and Country Restaurant? I mean, what are we talking about here in the back room of a restaurant?” Kennedy said. “If you think the people of the United States would put up with that, it’s not going to happen. It ain’t going to happen. I love you all. I mean no disrespect.”
Most in the room — the back room of a River North restaurant — laughed. But asked later by reporters whether he’d be asking for the party’s support, Kennedy dug in deeper.
“I just don’t know that it’s as meaningful as it was 50 or 60 years ago where people in the back room could control the outcome of an election,” Kennedy said. “I don’t believe that exists in the United States anymore. … I would say that having a huge social media presence. I’d say having the endorsements of people on Facebook, and LinkedIn, or Twitter or Snapchat is probably more important than what goes on in the back of a restaurant.”
That response drew some criticism. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, also the party’s executive vice chairman, said Kennedy’s comments “don’t make a lot of sense.”
“Most of the aldermen are also committeemen, and they’re the bottom of the totem pole of elected officials and you are a local elected official in the most critical sense,” Preckwinkle said after the event. “So I think criticism of us, who are at the nitty gritty level of delivering services and are trying to organize people to support the Democratic party, doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
Kennedy’s remarks also left Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios — the Cook County Democratic Party’s head — trying to defend the party: “This is not the party of 30 years ago and anybody who thinks it is is totally wrong.”
Whether he’s truly seeking their support or not, Kennedy was among six gubernatorial candidates presenting credentials to the Cook County Democratic Party in hopes of winning the party’s support.
The candidates displayed varying levels of humility and confidence, with Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) calling himself a “long shot” and an “under dog,” while the relatively obscure Bob Daiber — a schools superintendent from Madison County — said he’d win the entire state with a little help from Cook County.
Kennedy, the son of Robert F. Kennedy, spoke for just over seven minutes — his hands visibly shaking during some of the speech. He dropped the microphone, which made an audible thump when it hit the floor.
“You dropped the mic,” commiteeman Barrett Pedersen said to laughter. “It goes like this,” Pederson said, while pretending to do a “mic drop.”
Kennedy and billionaire businessman J.B. Pritzker are viewed as frontrunners in the race, based largely on name recognition, although Pritzker has yet to formally announce his run. On March 14, he announced he’d set up an exploratory committee, which allowed him to start raising money for a potential campaign.
Kennedy contributed $250,100 into his campaign fund last week — which lifted the spending caps on the race. Pritzker put $200,000 of his money into his exploratory bid last week. That is just under the limit of $250,000 limit under state law for self-funders, or when an outside expenditure group uses that money to try to influence an election.
Pritzker pledged to make a decision about his own candidacy soon, while making light of the attacks he’s already receiving from the Illinois Republican Party.
“According to Bruce Rauner and the Illinois GOP, Mike Madigan is actually my biological father,” Pritzker said to laughs.
Pritzker took digs at Rauner, saying he’s standing up for the Koch brothers, not the working people of the state: “He didn’t shake up Springfield. He instead tore it down.” And he also vowed to invest in the Democratic party’s infrastructure to try to combat the heavily funded Illinois Republican Party.
State Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Evanston, said he’d help to build up the party with a new surge of activism that is coming out of anti-President Trump efforts.
“If we don’t tap into that resource, shame on us.”
There was a unified message against Rauner, with every candidate and potential candidate criticizing the Republican governor. Pawar warned of a so-called “divide and rule” strategy behind Rauner’s budget battle.
“Divide and rule is exactly what Bruce Rauner is doing. We’re entering our third year without a budget. And the way our governor makes it seem it’s like a game of chicken,” Pawar said. “Like he’s taking a principled stance against overspending and the only reason we somehow don’t have a budget is because the other side won’t flinch. But the truth is Bruce Rauner wants to lose this game of chicken. He has to lose this game of chicken in order to win re-election. He wants chaos. He does not want a budget.”
Ald. Nicholas Sposato, 38th Ward committeeman, pushed each candidate to answer whether they’d get behind a candidate should they not be slated.
“It’s all us versus Bruce Rauner, not us versus each other,” said Chicago City Treasurer Kurt Summers, who also has not yet officially entered the race.
Republicans dismissed the barbs as more of the same.
“Today’s audition exemplifies everything wrong with Mike Madigan’s political machine,” said Steven Yaffe, spokesman for the Illinois Republican Party. “Democratic candidates had a chance to stand up to the status quo, but chose to talk about tax increases without reform. Instead of seeking to fix Illinois, the Democratic candidates made clear they will continue the broken system run by the Speaker.”
The 50 city ward and 30 suburban township committeemen on the Cook County Democratic Central Committee plan to slate a candidate in August.