What's in a name? Kennedy candidacy might decide
Within a day of announcing his bid for Illinois governor, Chris Kennedy -- whose name already carries a lot of weight -- got linked to another name with a lot of weight -- or baggage, depending on one's point of view: Mike Madigan.
The Illinois Republican Party wasted no time in pointing out alleged links between Kennedy and Speaker of the House Madigan and the Chicago political machine. A new website, MadiganKennedy.com, redirected visitors to BossMadigan.com, where Kennedy was shown as a Madigan minion.
“Chris Kennedy spent day one of his campaign sticking with Mike Madigan, defending him in TV interviews, and even going so far as to proclaim that Madigan bears no responsibility for Illinois’ problems," Steven Yaffe, spokesman for the Illinois Republic Party, said. "Kennedy is following rule one of the Chicago machine: Never speak an ill word about your political boss.”
Kennedy, the son of Robert F. Kennedy and nephew of President John F. Kennedy, brings his family's political reputation as well as his years of experience as a Chicago businessman and philanthropist to the race.
"I'm running for governor because this state is headed in the wrong direction," he said in a YouTube video.
If Kennedy wins the Democratic primary, he will face off against Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. Rauner and Madigan, who is also the Illinois Democratic Party chair, have been locked in a stalemate over the Illinois budget since 2015.
Rauner came into office with his own "Turnaround Agenda" that featured workers' compensation and pension reforms, but Madigan stood firmly for the status quo in the House. The state was unable to pass a budget in 2015 after Rauner vetoed 19 of the 20 budget bills he was presented. He signed the education bill, which ensured that schools could open in the fall.
After a year without a budget, Madigan presented an all-or-nothing budget bill that was $7 billion in the red. Despite a constitutional mandate for a balanced budget, the House passed the budget in late May 2016. The Senate, however, voted it down.
Rauner had already announced that if the unbalanced budget passed the Senate, he would veto it. The state was left without a budget for the upcoming year.
A last-minute "stopgap" measure was passed in late June, but it addressed only critical services until the end of the year. The stopgap measure expired without a replacement.
Rauner and the GOP have slammed Madigan repeatedly for his refusal to negotiate changes in the pension and workers' compensation systems, and his opposition to term limits and redistricting reforms.
Speculation on Kennedy's possible candidacy ran high last summer, with reporters pursuing the businessman into an elevator with questions about a run.
After announcing his campaign, Kennedy was asked if he had sought Madigan's blessing.
"I met with Speaker Madigan, of course," he said.
The Illinois GOP released a statement lambasting Kennedy's candidacy immediately after he announced it.
“Mike Madigan has already endorsed Chris Kennedy’s run because he knows that Kennedy will never stand up to him," Yaffe said. "Chris Kennedy secretly met with Madigan this summer to kiss his ring and get Madigan’s blessing. Kennedy’s already done his part to placate his boss, giving Madigan thousands to fund his anti-reform attack ads. We need a governor who will fight for reform, not another Mike Madigan-first politician.”
When reporters questioned Madigan regarding Kennedy's run, he called Kennedy "an excellent candidate."