News Local/State

Chris Kennedy On Why He Should Be Governor Of Illinois

Chris Kennedy at a University of Illinois Board of Trustees meeting in 2014.

Chris Kennedy at a University of Illinois Board of Trustees meeting in 2014. Illinois Public Media

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Kennedy talked about a labor group's endorsement of one of his rivals, Illinois' property tax system and whether marijuana should be legalized, in an interview originating at public radio station WBEZ in Chicago.

Kennedy, the former chairman of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees, said the Illinois AFL-CIO's endorsement of billionaire entrepreneur J.B. Pritzker in the governor’s race is “ridiculous,” “absurd” and similar to “the Christian right’s endorsement of Donald Trump a couple of years ago.”

“I think it just reinforces the image of the Pritzker candidacy as one that is backed by the insiders — by the status quo,” Kennedy said on Morning Shift Wednesday.

The state AFL-CIO, an umbrella organization of numerous labor unions, made an unusually early endorsement on Tuesday in the governor’s race, which is more than a year away. 

A spokesman for the labor group did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but a Pritzker spokeswoman criticized Kennedy’s portrayal of organized labor. 

“Chris Kennedy’s unfortunate characterization of unions is an insult to the hardworking men and women who continue to be hurt by Bruce Rauner’s failed leadership,” said Galia Slayen, the communications director for Pritzker’s campaign, in a statement. 

In addition to Kennedy and Pritzker, the field of Democrats hoping to run against Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner also includes state Sen. Daniel Biss, Chicago Ald. Ameya Pawar, Madison County school superintendent Bob Daiber and state Rep. Scott Drury. 

Kennedy, the son of Robert F. Kennedy, discussed the AFL-CIO endorsement, problems with the state’s property tax system, whether marijuana should be legalized, and how to improve the beleaguered Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. 

Below are highlights from Kennedy’s conversation with Morning Shift host Tony Sarabia. 

On the AFL-CIO endorsing Pritzker 

Chris Kennedy: I think it just reinforces the image of the Pritzker candidacy as one that is backed by the insiders — by the status quo. He’s not going to bring change to the state — badly needed change. He’s going to protect the status quo, the interests that exist in Springfield that want to resist any form of new future for our state. 

Tony Sarabia: So you see the unions being as just another interest in Springfield?

Kennedy: Well, I think they want to protect Speaker Madigan and frankly Speaker Madigan’s done a lot for them. He’s been a great champion of unions, particularly the past couple of years when they’ve been under assault from Gov. Rauner. I think this is really a reaction to the pressure that everybody is under from Gov. Rauner’s relentless attacks on unions. 

But to endorse J.B. Pritzker — for the unions to do that — is as absurd today as was the Christian right’s endorsement of Donald Trump a couple of years ago. It’s ridiculous. 

He’s got blow-up rats in front of his PECO Pallet plant. There’s years of anti-labor history at Hyatt with credible video, so I don’t believe that any of those people voted for Pritzker. I think they voted, really, to support Mike Madigan.

On AFL-CIO leadership and union workers 

Kennedy: I’d say almost half of union labor did not vote with their leadership in the last election, 2016, and half didn’t vote with leadership in 2014. So having the leadership endorse Pritzker I don’t think counts at all to what will happen in the primary. I think the individual voters will go into the voting booth and decide on their own. They’re obviously not looking to leadership to steer them.

On changing the property tax system

Kennedy: We need to abandon the property tax system that we have in Cook County for a number of reasons. First, it’s what funds our schools, and we have terrible outcomes for the funding of our schools. 

I would say that, before we attack the property tax system, there are two things we need to do beforehand, almost as prerequisites, and they’re both about getting the money out of the system. 

The first is that we need to prevent the assessor, in this case let’s say in Cook County, from accepting donations from lawyers who appear before his office. Apparently the assessor’s got more than $5 million in his own campaign war chest, more than half of it, according to the Tribune, coming from property tax appeals lawyers. I don’t think that includes what he’s got in his ward organization or what people have given to the party of Cook County, which he controls. So he’s getting millions of dollars from the very people who are appearing before him, and in my mind that means there’s no integrity in our system.

On legalizing marijuana

Kennedy: I’d say this: I’m a big believer in science and the medical profession. I would take my cues from them. I do think that we should understand what the long-term outcomes are in places like Colorado before we embrace massive change like legalization of marijuana. 

But if the studies indicate that we have no worse outcome, then I would follow the science on that. … I think before we introduce yet another drug into the lives of our young people, and I guess the full population as well, we ought to understand what we’re getting ourselves into.

On what he would invest into the Department of Children and Family Services

Kennedy: Money, methodology, technology, executive leadership, additional staff. I’d look across the country to find what agency like that operates with the best results and I’d model our behavior after that.

Editor’s note: This interview was produced  by Chicago Public Media, which receives philanthropic support from The Pritzker Foundation. J.B. Pritzker, who is campaigning for governor in the Democratic Primary, is not involved with the foundation and does not contribute to it.