Chris Kennedy: Leadership experience for a better future

This is one of a seies of essays produced in response to an invitation from the Daily Herald on the topic, "Why I Should Be Illinois' Next Governor." The two Republicans and seven Democrats who have announced bids to seek the state's top job all were invited to describe themselves and their core positions. Publication of the op-eds began with submission by incumbent Republican Bruce Rauner and will continue daily on the Opinion page. Democrat Tio Hardiman declined.

My wife and I raised our four children here in Illinois. Our youngest daughter just started her freshman year of college and our other kids recently graduated. They're making the decision about where they want to live the rest of their lives.

I love them, and I want them to stay in Illinois. I want Illinois to be their home forever. I think that's the same feeling that every parent has for either their own children or their nieces and nephews.

Unfortunately, our kids are turning to other states to attend college, find jobs and raise their families. Illinois has the largest out-migration of college age students of any state in the country, with the exception of New Jersey. We have the largest net loss of college freshmen of any state.

Like many people, I think Illinois is in worse shape now than it's been in the more than 30 years I've lived here.

Our state government benefits the wealthy and well-connected at the expense of too many others. We're relying on a rigged property tax system to fund our public schools. If we don't fund schools at the state level, we will never adequately educate our kids.

It doesn't have to be like this.

We can abandon the property tax racket and ban elected officials from acting as property tax appeals lawyers. If we don't stop politicians and parties from making money off of the property tax system, they won't ever let us change the system itself.

I'm running for governor to challenge the status quo and bring the fundamental change we so desperately need in our state.

My parents, Robert and Ethel Kennedy, raised us to understand the importance of public service, and I've built my career on it.

My wife and I created Top Box Foods, a nonprofit that partners with community centers to deliver fresh, high-quality, affordable food to food deserts, neighborhoods where good food can be hard to find.

I also served as chairman for the Greater Chicago Food Depository, the nation's leading nonprofit food distributor. They provide food to about 678,000 adults and children in Cook County every year.

As the former chairman of the board of the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau, I worked with government and with labor and, most importantly, independent small businesses to bring three of the largest trade shows in the United States back to Chicago.

I know how to bring people together and how to get things done

As president of the Merchandise Mart, one of the great economic engines of Illinois, more companies moved to Illinois to open doors for the first time and the building became the largest LEED-certified building in the world.

During my time as the chairman of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees, we restored pride in the state's flagship institution that previously had been tarnished by corruption.

I'm running to make sure Illinois works for all of us.

It might feel impossible, but it can be done. And I'm running for the chance to do it - to make education, and all the possibility that comes with it, available to every child in Illinois. Let's change the status quo. Let's bring the state of Illinois into the 21st Century.

Cardinal Blase Cupich, the archbishop of Chicago, once said, "We are a democracy, and we get the leaders we deserve because we elect them."

We deserve better than what we have.

Democrat Chris Kennedy, of Kenilworth, is the co-founder and chairman of Top Box Foods, a hunger-relief nonprofit, and was longtime president of the Merchandise Mart in Chicago.

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