March 14, 2017
By Marty Carlino
After months of speculation, Chris Kennedy, former Lund-Gill Chair at Dominican University and son of the late Robert F. Kennedy, announced earlier last month that he will be running for Illinois Governor.
“I believe that we can restore the American dream to the people of Illinois,” Kennedy said in a video statement announcing his candidacy. “I’m running for Governor because this state is heading in the wrong direction.”
Kennedy’s announcement is a clear diatribe to current Illinois state Gov. Bruce Rauner, who’s first term has been marred by ongoing battles with the Illinois state legislator, leaving the state without a budget for over 20 months.
Since his announcement, Kennedy has relentlessly directed his campaign messages at the incumbent Rauner. “He needs to stop holding us hostage,” Kennedy said in a press release sent out earlier this month. “We want to pass reform, not pay a ransom…he has imperiled us, and turned a budget crisis into an economic catastrophe for Illinois families. The chaos that Gov. Rauner has inflicted upon Illinois is unprecedented.”
Kennedy’s ties to Dominican University come from his tenure as the 2013 Lund-Gill Chair, in which he delivered the yearly address to the DU community. Kennedy also taught an honors course at the university entitled “Government Policies and their Effect on Social Justice.”
Kennedy co-taught the course with Political Science professor David Dolence. Dolence shared his thoughts on the experience.
“I believe the course was very effective and a powerful experience for all the students,” Dolence said. Dolence also stated how crucial Kennedy was to the success of the course.
Dolence said: “Chris brought a great deal of personal experience to the course that the students benefited from. The course was on politics and social justice and we covered a diverse set of topics…Chris was central to the course’s success and dozens of the students would mention the course to me in all the years that followed.”
Maggie Angel, one student who took the course also shared her thoughts on the experience. “I took this course as a freshman and it really started to give me the bigger picture of how a political science degree works in real life,” Angel said. “It went beyond the theories and concepts in textbooks to see how policies affect real people and communities…. it helped me make connections between different policy areas and see how the causes of many issues are interconnected.”
Angel also commented on the value that Kennedy brought to the course, saying, “Chris brought in a different perspective that complemented the academic view of the issues so it was a great way to discuss policy in action.”
Angel currently works on the staff of Illinois Senator Dick Durbin. She went on to discuss how taking the course was a valuable experience for her career aspirations.
Angel said: “This class was definitely one of the most important classes I took during my time at DU because it made me reflect on why I wanted to study this and what I can do to be a part of the solution to some of these issues we learned about in class. It made a deep lasting impression on me and is one of the reasons that led me to work in government today. Having the class being discussion based allowed for a serious dialogue and exchange of ideas and perspectives which is an important skill because people can get so entrenched in their experiences and beliefs that they fail to even listen how someone else sees an issue.”
Per the university’s website, the expectations the university has for the Lund-Gill Chair are: “an individual of the highest moral and intellectual reputation who can address themes and issues at the heart of the liberal arts and sciences.”
Both Angel and Dolence agreed that Kennedy lived up to those expectations.
“While stated ‘visions’ can be a bit idealistic, I believe Chris definitely lived up to the Lund-Gill chair objective,” Dolence said. “Social justice is a key foundation of Dominican’s liberal education and Chris embraced that theme in the course and I would contend in his life.”
“I thought Chris was an excellent choice for the Lund-Gill class,” Angel said. “He is a successful businessman from a prominent family yet he started Top Box foods and has been a leader in Illinois communities.”
Kennedy’s background in Illinois is both well versed and well experienced. Kennedy is a noted businessman who once managed Chicago’s Merchandise Mart, as well as co-founding Top Box Foods, an organization dedicated to bringing affordable and healthy foods to neighborhoods throughout Illinois.
Kennedy embodies the ideal, wealthy candidate Illinois Democrats have searched for to challenge the well-off and well-funded Rauner. Rauner has already reportedly allocated nearly $50 million into his 2018 campaign after breaking campaign finance records during his first run.
Kennedy has already stated the early directive for his campaign. In a press release sent out to his supporters, Kennedy said: “We would start making the investments in our infrastructure that are critical for fostering economic growth, reforming the state’s grossly unfair approach to school funding so every community in Illinois can have superior schools for our children. It’s imperative we stop the assault on public education and support our teachers as they work to close the achievement gap in our schools.”
Dolence envisions that Kennedy’s campaign will have strong ties to fighting for both social justice and education funding.
“I am very confident that his social justice position and Illinois experience, both of which were on full display in the course, will play out strongly in his campaign,” Dolence said.
Kennedy will face shift competition in 2018 as Chicago billionaire J.B. Pritzker has hinted at making a run as well as Chicago Ald. Ameya Pawar, who has already announced candidacy.