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Illinois 2018 Primary Campaign Notebook 2: Chris Kennedy's Confusing Campaign

Here's how it started:

The son of the slain Robert F. Kennedy used a speech to the Illinois delegation to the Democratic National Convention to sharply criticize Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, fueling speculation that the man with the famous political bloodlines might commit to running this time around after previously weighing campaigns for the U.S. House, U.S. Senate and governor.

But after Kennedy wrapped up his polished address, he showed little savvy with the collection of reporters awaiting him outside a hotel banquet room to ask whether he would challenge Rauner in 2018.

"I said what I was going to say inside today," he said, "and the rest of the convention I'm going to spend listening and learning from other people."

Kennedy then walked toward a waiting elevator, but a crush of Chicago reporters followed him in, not satisfied with the non-answer.

"This is sort of ridiculous, please," Kennedy pleaded.

"What's ridiculous is you don't answer questions," WFLD-Ch. 32 reporter Mike Flannery shot back. "You've run four or five campaigns in the gossip column. Are you running for governor or not?"

"I don't have to address you. Please leave the elevator and let me go to my meeting. Please do that. Have some decency," Kennedy responded. "What have you become? Please, please."

A furious Kennedy then left the elevator and headed to a nearby stairwell. Chicago Sun-Times reporter Lynn Sweet then chased him into the stairwell doorway requesting to take a photograph of the businessman, who obliged with an awkwardly forced smile.

Dude.

So why the getaway?

Kennedy said he thought his message to the delegation spoke for itself and that he refuses to participate in media scrums that are the regular stuff of politics and public office.

"People turn into animals in that environment, and they are asking ridiculous questions, acting like bullies . . . It's a bullshit way to conduct each other's business," he said.

Kennedy said he would rather do one-on-one interviews with every reporter than one hallway press conference.

Kennedy wasn't wrong about the behavior of media packs, but boy was he wrong about how to handle it. Can you imagine him as governor? Can you really?

*

Not that Kennedy is just an innocent naif. Jacobin did the deepest dive into his track record, and it's not pretty. Some anti-Establishment revolutionary.

Not all of Kennedy's business success has comported with his stated progressive values. For more than 20 years, Kennedy has served on the board of trustees of Ariel Investments' Mutual Fund. Ariel Investments is headed by John Rogers, a close Obama associate (he's currently serving on the board of directors of the incipient Obama Foundation) and a big believer of aiding poor black communities by helping them start hedge funds.

Kennedy currently serves on its Management Contracts, Executive, and Governance Committee and chairs its Audit Committee. Kennedy's involvement with Ariel has been profitable for him, bringing him $89,000 in 2014 alone.

But the Ariel Mutual Fund has invested in companies that are a far cry from the progressive image Kennedy is now presenting. One company is Verizon, which has a history of misleading its customers, paying little in taxes, aiming to outsource jobs and cut worker pensions and disability payments, and for a time assisted the U.S. government in spying on its customers.

Others include tobacco giant Philip Morris (which, aside from being a tobacco company, has been accused of profiting from child labor), Acacia Research (a patent-licensing company that was recently accused by Apple of being part of an antitrust conspiracy with Nokia, another company Ariel invests in), and private equity firm Blackstone, which the fund has invested in since at least as far back as 2012, the same year it began buying up foreclosed homes around the United States (including in Kennedy's stomping ground of Chicago) and virtually operating as a slumlord. In 2012, Ariel had invested just shy of $37.5 million in the firm.

Perhaps most glaring is Ariel's longtime investment in a variety of fossil-fuel companies at the same time that Kennedy touts himself as something of an eco-warrior.

Let us know pause to reflect on the statement Kennedy posted to Facebook when he announced his campaign.

I'm running for governor to bring radical change to Illinois. But insiders are working to silence our campaign because we threaten the status quo.

The political establishment doesn't want to hear the truth and they don't like me because I'm the one telling it.

The truth about what? Your Ariel investments? Shhhh!

*

Not only that, but the political establishment has wanted Kennedy to run for public office for years - although this year they weren't as pleased once they settled on JB Pritzker as their guy. So, awkward.

*

Back to Jacobin:

Along with the rest of his family, Kennedy has also continued to benefit from a piece of accounting wizardry that has inoculated his family's wealth from taxes. As Carol O'Donnell of Forbes outlined, the Kennedys have long used "dynasty trusts" to both protect their wealth from the greed of individual family members, as well as shield it from the government's busy hands.

But upon selling Merchandise Mart to Vornado Realty in 1998, the family also potentially avoided paying capital gains tax on the sale by entering into an "operating partnership unit" with the company, giving the Kennedys an ownership stake in Vornado. This also means that individual Kennedys have been reaping millions of dollars in dividends for years. Given that Chris Kennedy was the Vornado Realty Trust's executive officer from 2000 to 2011, it's likely he did, too.

It's quite likely we'd know for sure if he released his tax returns.

*

One thing's for sure: Kennedy is lucky in a way that Pritzker is in this race, because he's drawn the bulk of attention when it comes to questions about family fortunes.

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Finally, a tease:

Perhaps the clearest example of Kennedy's potential governing style can be found in his time at the University of Illinois, whose board of trustees he chaired from 2009 to 2015. During that time, Kennedy repeatedly rolled over - or even tacked to the right - at the slightest hint of controversy. Kennedy's e-mails, some of which were released in past document dumps and others recently obtained through a Freedom of Information request, give some of the behind-the-scenes details of these incidents.

You'll have to click through to the Jacobin piece for the rest

*

I can say this: I don't feel like I heard enough about Kennedy's doings at U of I as I should have.

*

"The 52-year-old sold his ownership of the Merchandise Mart in 2012 and now spends his time running a grocery nonprofit, Top Box Foods," the Tribune reported.

Not in 2015 he didn't. According to a tax filing for that year that the Sun-Times' Dan Mihalopoulos looked at, Kennedy only averaged two hours a week working for Top Box.

*

"Kennedy was interested in hunger issues," the Tribune reported, "which is how he explains ending up with a job at a small grain elevator buying corn and soybeans for farmers, which later evolved into a position as an ADM runner at the Chicago Board of Trade and Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Later, he got an MBA at Northwestern University and became president of the Merchandise Mart, which was owned by the Kennedy family until it sold the building for $625 million in 1998."

I don't get how any of that follows from being interested in hunger issues - including the grain buying.

*

This would be an effective line of attack against Rauner, if true:

Kennedy said his experience in luring firms to the Merchandise Mart proves that 'I know what it takes to get more companies to move to Illinois . . . And to get them to expand once they've arrive."

And it didn't take any items from Rauner's "turnaround agenda" to do it, he added.

"Not one of the 5,000 or so tenants and exhibitors that I deal with, businesses that employ people and pay taxes, not one ever asked me about the prevailing wage, or right to work, or redistricting, or tort reform," Kennedy said to applause.

Query those tenants!

*

Media fail: the Kennedy campaign's health insurance.

*

From "Rep. Rush Son, Brother On Chris Kennedy Payroll:"

"Jeffrey Rush in 2008 was sentenced to six months in the Kane County Jail and three years probation after pleading guilty to official misconduct for having sex with female inmates. Jeffrey Rush was fired from his $54,408-a-year job as assistant supervisor of security at the Fox Valley Adult Transition Center in Aurora in Sept. 2007. Congressman Rush persuaded Gov. Blagojevich's administration to hire his son because of law enforcement and supervisory experience, the governor's office said after his firing."

WTF?

*

This was Kennedy's best moment - and the only one that made me take a second look:

Our major city, Chicago, is using a strategy of selective containment where we're allowing violence to continue as long as it only continues in certain neighborhoods. We have an '80-8 Rule,' where 80 percent of the violence occurs in just 8 percent of our city . . . We're cutting off resources to push people of color out of our city and perhaps out of the way of economic development.

We've closed 18 public schools in Bronzeville alone. That neighborhood just south of the Loop, there along the beaches of Lake Michigan, is the next great development play in Chicago. It will be a development play, but not for the residents who have lived there for years and years, and who are being pushed out. But instead, for a new wave of gentrification that defines a city which, as it gets smaller, is becoming whiter.

I don't believe that violence is being allowed to continue purposely in some neighborhoods, but I do believe it's a natural consequence of the policies that have been purposely pursued by at least the last two mayors. Otherwise, he's spot-on.

*

(Well, maybe this was his best moment. Certainly the best mic drop of the campaign - maybe any campaign.)

*

From The Steve Cochran Show, via Capitol Fax:

SC: The headlines are blaring, 'Forced Gentrification by the Mayor.' And if people don't read the full story, the headlines make it sound like you're calling the mayor a racist who's kicking black folks out of the city. So, let's start there. I want to give you a chance to clarify those remarks - if they need clarifying.

CK: Well, I'd say this: I don't know what's in the mayor's heart. I don't know what he's thinking on this issue. What I do know are the results.

That's the very definition of institutional racism - it doesn't require that individuals be bigots.

CK: The results are Chicago is becoming smaller and as it becomes smaller, it's becoming whiter. In neighborhoods predominately lived in by African-Americans, we're closing schools, we're closing mental health clinics. We're forcing people to live in food deserts, forcing them to live in pharmacy deserts, allowing crime to skyrocket. And, the combination of those forces would push anybody out of the city.

Whether it's an act of omission or an act of commission, it doesn't really matter. There is only one mayor and he sets the tone at the top. This is occurring under his watch so, one way or another, he needs to be held responsible.

Maybe that's the office you should be running for.

*

Then again, no. Because this makes no sense.

*

Nonetheless, Joravsky: "Chris Kennedy got it right: people of color are being pushed out of Chicago intentionally. The gubernatorial candidate nailed the whole point of Mayors Daley and Emanuel's economic development programs."

Maybe Kennedy's just a late bloomer.

*

Maybe not.

Look, the guy is Not Ready For Prime Time.

*

But what are you going to do about it?

In the Democratic Party all the money really flows at the behest of the Speaker of the House and if you cross swords with him that flow of money will be cut off.

If you look at how I'll react to that, well you can see, you can see from the history of the primary, what's happened during this election. I spoke truth to power, I said what Mike Madigan is doing is not illegal but it should be. And that money was cut off. I was threatened by him, I was told not to speak out against him by people associated with the party. And I said 'No, I'm gonna speak the truth, what's happening with the property tax racket is destroying our schools, dooming the next generation to a life of economic servitude.'

I spoke out against Rahm Emanuel and what's happening in the City of Chicago, and my donors dropped.

So who are you backing for mayor this time around?

*

This kind of came and went, but it's pretty startling - especially given his railing against insiders:

"One project from his time at the Mart that Kennedy doesn't talk about is a nearly half-billion-dollar public-private partnership to build a convention center and medical mart in Cleveland, which Kennedy brokered through a family friend. The friend was among local politicians who gave Kennedy's company a no-bid contract and pushed through a controversial sales tax hike to pay for the project, which now sits largely empty and has failed to bring in the promised revenue, a Tribune review of the deal found."

*

Separately: "Kennedy's exact portion of his family's haul from the sale of the Merchandise Mart is unknown, and he's declined to answer questions about his personal net worth. Partial tax returns Kennedy released last year showed that he had $1.2 million in taxable state income in 2016.

"When pressed by reporters last summer, Kennedy said his financial situation was 'significantly different' than Pritzker's and that it required him to seek 'the individual support of residents of our state.'"

*

Bill Daley was Che Kennedy's finance chair.

*

Finally, this unforgettable moment:

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See also:

* Illinois 2018 Primary Campaign Notebook 1: MAGA, Mendacity & Moby Mike.

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Comments welcome.



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Posted on March 18, 2018


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