Chicago businessman and gubernatorial candidate Christopher Kennedy tested out some campaign themes on an audience of around 15 people during a March 7 community meeting hosted by Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) at the Garfield Park Field House, 110 N. Central Park Ave.
Kennedy raged against what he called the “Parisification” of Chicago and other major cities, where increasing numbers of low-income residents are fleeing for the suburbs as their neighborhoods undergo gentrification.
Kennedy also said he was concerned about the steep decline in manufacturing jobs, a trend that has affected the West Side for several decades but that is now also negatively affecting southern Illinois.
“It’s exactly the same in Southern Illinois, except they aren’t used to it,” he said. “They have whole counties without a grocery story. They are angry, they’re raging, they’re mad. The American Dream — that promise has not been kept.”
Kennedy said that the idea that, with grit and determination, anyone should be able to build a better life for herself is something fundamental to America.
“My belief is that the American Dream is a civil right,” he said. “If you can’t make it, if your children can’t make it, then why be civil?”
Kennedy said that a crucial aspect in the American Dream’s demise is the unequal nature of the country’s education landscape, which unjustly relies on local property taxes to pay for public education — a reality that handicaps most children who attend schools on the West and South Sides, where property values are relatively low.
Kennedy advocates for the implementation of a foundation budget, a method that entails the state allocating education money to school districts based on how much money they need to provide students with adequate educations. If a district can’t fund itself up to a level that the state considers adequate, then the state will take care of the balance.
Kennedy said that he’ll marshal support for his proposal by increasing voter turnout, which he hopes will help generate the majority in the General Assembly that’s necessary to pass significant legislation. But in order to do that, he said, politicians will have to deal with the cynicism manufactured by Republicans.
“In Illinois, they tell you the system is broken,” Kennedy said. “They tell you everyone is corrupt. They are going to convince you not to vote that day. As a result, the Democratic vote plummets. We need to get everyone to vote, because then, the legislature will go, ‘Wow, those people are pissed off.'”
Kennedy also addressed the death penalty after a West Side resident advocated for using it on people who murder women and children, explaining that he opposes the measure.
“In a perfect justice system, I would [support it],” he said.
Kennedy is the nephew of President John F. Kennedy and the son of Robert F. Kennedy. He ran Merchandise Mart until 2012. That year, he and his wife, Sheila, launched Top Box Foods, a nonprofit based in the Loop that sells boxes of healthy groceries at a price that’ sup to 40 percent less than the retail value. Most of the company’s business comes from low-income neighborhoods in the Chicago area and New Orleans.
According to his LinkedIn profile, Kennedy currently chairs Joseph P. Kennedy Enterprises, Inc., the Kennedy family’s investment firm. He served on the University of Illinois system’s trustee board in from 2009 until 2015.
There are currently six declared candidates in the 2018 Illinois gubernatorial race, including incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner, Randy Shufflebeam of the right-wing Constitution Party and four Democratic Party candidates.
Aside from Kennedy, Democratic contenders include Chicago alderman Ameya Pawar (47th), Alex Paterakis, a civil engineer and business owner, and Bob Daiber, a regional superintendent of schools in southwest Illinois’ Madison County.
This article has been updated to clarify Kennedy’s position on the death penalty.