Chris Kennedy ready for prime time in race against Rauner

He's dubious about raising taxes to solve the budget crisis, wants a capital bill to improve transit and roads, and says he's no one's puppet.

Suburbanite Chris Kennedy, 53, brings an iconic last name to Illinois' political scene as he enters the Democratic field to challenge Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Shortly after announcing his candidacy Wednesday, Kennedy went on the attack against the embattled governor who has faced stiff resistance from Democrats in reforms and in producing a state budget.

"The governor said he was going to shake up Springfield, instead he's tried to hold up Springfield. He was sent to heal not hurt, and he's failed in every way," said Kennedy, son of former Attorney General Robert Kennedy and nephew of President John F. Kennedy.

The Kenilworth resident obtained his MBA from Northwestern University and was president of the Merchandise Mart, previously owned by the Kennedy family. He now is a real estate developer and runs Top Box Foods, a charity that delivers inexpensive food to poor neighborhoods. He previously served as chairman of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees.

"I've spent my entire life straddling the worlds of government and politics and the economy and business," said Kennedy citing his experience at the Merchandise Mart and coordinating campaigns for his brother.

Asked about his ideas for fixing Illinois' budget shortfall, Kennedy said, "I don't think we can tax our way out of this mess and we can't cut our way out of it," but he did not offer specific solutions, saying he needed to learn more about the size of the deficit.

On one suburban issue - whether to extend Route 53 north - Kennedy said he wanted to consult with lawmakers first.

But he noted "the average commute time in the Chicago area is over an hour. That's ridiculous, we all benefit from a more efficient commute. There are lots of things we can do with a capital bill to improve people's quality of life."

The Illinois Republican Party was quick to label Kennedy as a follower of Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan.

"Mike Madigan has already endorsed Chris Kennedy's run because he knows that Kennedy will never stand up to him. Chris Kennedy secretly met with Madigan this summer to kiss his ring and get Madigan's blessing," spokesman Steven Yaffe said in a statement.

It's Kennedy's first personal foray into politics, although he had considered a run for the Senate.

He will face a tough primary battle with other Democrats, including Chicago Alderman Ameya Pawar.

Asked about the critique, Kennedy faulted Rauner for using his wealth to silence opposition in the GOP. "I have not heard state representatives or senators offering a second way because he bullies them with his money."

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