At what point does someone become too rich to be trusted to serve as governor of Illinois?

For Democratic candidate Chris Kennedy, it’s somewhere between his millions and opponent J.B. Pritzker’s billions.

One day after welcoming Pritzker into the governor’s race with oblique warnings about “the disastrous consequences of people trying to buy elections,” Kennedy drew the target directly at Pritzker and his superior wealth.

Comparing a potential Pritzker takeover of the state’s Democratic leadership to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s tight-fisted control over Illinois Republicans, Kennedy told me Friday that Democrats should “make sure that no matter what, we don’t end up with a Democratic Party that’s silenced and intimidated and bullied.”

“Do I think that J.B. Pritzker is going to act like a tyrant like Bruce Rauner has? I don’t know that. But why take the risk?” Kennedy said. “He doesn’t need your money. He doesn’t need your advice. He doesn’t need your help. He doesn’t need to listen.”


It’s definitely a little rich (using the other meaning of the word) — and arguably hypocritical — for Kennedy to be the one throwing the money stone.

Chris Kennedy speaks to union members outside a nursing home at 69th and Wentworth after picketing with SEIU-Healthcare workers. Photo by Mark Brown

Not only is the son of Robert F. Kennedy an heir to a great family fortune as well as to what once was the biggest name in American Democratic politics, it was his personal contribution of $250,100 to his campaign last month that removed the donation limits for all the candidates for governor in 2018. It would have happened eventually, but still.

Just like everybody else in big time politics, Kennedy will need to raise money from millionaires and billionaires whenever he can to finance his campaign, and is already doing so.

But having made no secret of my distaste for Rauner and the big money titans who are exerting oversized control of the state from the Republican side of the equation, I’m in a bit of a bind over how to deal with Pritzker’s candidacy without being hypocritical myself.

All other things being equal, I would just as soon the Democratic Party didn’t follow the Republicans down the path of choosing the ultra-rich to run the country.

Based on his body of work, though, Pritzker may very well prove to be the most qualified and accomplished Democrat in the race.

As it shapes up now, Democratic voters will actually have several good choices when they head to the polls on March 20, 2018, and I have no intention of choosing sides at this early date.

All four of the major declared candidates — Pritzker, Kennedy, Sen. Daniel Biss and Ald. Ameya Pawar — bring certain strengths to the table, as does City Treasurer Kurt Summers, who said Friday he’s still two weeks away from making a decision. I’m pretty sure all of them share progressive Democratic values.

Kurt Summers pickets outside a nursing home at 69th and Wentworth with SEIU-Healthcare workers. Photo by Mark Brown

Biss, it should be noted, also has made an issue of wealth in connection with both Pritzker and Kennedy.

To be clear, Kennedy’s fortune is nowhere close to Pritzker territory, which was pegged at $3.4 billion by Forbes.

I asked Kennedy how much money he does have. Thus ensued an awkward silence.

Kennedy spoke to me outside a nursing home at 69th and Wentworth where he, Pritzker and Summers showed up to burnish their everyman credentials by picketing with SEIU-Healthcare workers.

I missed connections afterward with Pritzker, but a campaign spokesman responded that Kennedy “is more focused on his talking points than dealing with reality. … It’s JB who’s been standing up to everything Bruce Rauner and Donald Trump are trying to tear down.”

I’ve seen no indication Pritzker would be a bully, although I do believe he wants to play a role in building a stronger state party apparatus like Rauner has done with the Republicans.

That’s something Democrats are going to need going forward no matter who is their nominee.