For a while now, the book on Chris Kennedy has been that he may not be cut out for a career in politics, despite his famous last name and pedigree as the son of Bobby Kennedy and nephew of John F. Kennedy.
That thinking goes all the way back to Kennedy’s disastrous performance after a breakfast speech to Illinois delegates during the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Kennedy had a serious freak-out experience in front of TV cameras as reporters jumped on an elevator with him to ask questions.
The Democratic gubernatorial candidate has had some weird, uncomfortable moments since then, but none so weird and uncomfortable as a recent media availability.
By now, most everyone bothering to read this knows what happened. Kennedy was asked whether Gov. Bruce Rauner is “almost becoming like a super PAC for you as he’s trying to undermine JB Pritzker,” with Rauner’s constant anti-Pritzker hits on property taxes, House Speaker Michael Madigan and imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Kennedy responded by defending the Republican governor. “I think Bruce Rauner is trying to do what he thinks is best for the state of Illinois,” Kennedy said. “Now, we may disagree on what that is, but his willingness to speak truth to power, to take on the powers that have been strangling our economy for decades in this state is something that I think he should be applauded for.”
Before he can take on Rauner in the fall, however, Kennedy has to win a Democratic primary this spring. I shouldn’t have to even say this, but Democrats don’t usually win Democratic primaries by going out of their way to heap compliments on an incumbent Republican who polls worse among Democratic primary voters than… well, just go ahead and complete that sentence yourself with the worst possible thing you can imagine.
There was also a blowup last week when Kennedy pulled a no-class stunt during a candidates’ forum. He was asked to say something nice about the other candidates, but Kennedy said he just couldn’t say anything positive about his billionaire rival Pritzker.
What struck me the most, however, was something I haven’t seen reported elsewhere.
Kennedy said he wanted to put another billion dollars a year into higher education, and the forum’s moderator Carol Marin asked him how he would pay for it.
“There's two buildings in Chicago that are so under-assessed relative to their sales price, there's a billion dollars of missing value from them alone,” Kennedy declared. “That should pay 5 percent a year in taxes. That's $50 million a year.”
While I have no problem with booting Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios from office, I don’t think the man can be blamed for underfunded state universities. Kennedy is apparently so caught up in his property tax reform schtick that it has become his go-to answer on pretty much everything. Property taxes are local revenues. The state doesn’t get a cut.
Kennedy’s response was one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard proposed by a supposedly legitimate candidate for governor – and that’s really saying something. With early voting about to begin, Kennedy still hasn’t demonstrated that he’s ready for prime time.