CHICAGO – Democratic businessman Chris Kennedy said Wednesday he will run for Illinois governor in 2018, bringing the instant name recognition of his family's political legacy to what will likely be a sharply contested race to unseat Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.
In an email and video sent to supporters, Kennedy, 53, said he's running because Illinois is heading "in the wrong direction."
"I moved to Illinois thirty years ago with an enthusiasm for business and a commitment to serve. Today, I am announcing my run for Governor because I love Illinois, but we have never been in worse shape," he said. "We don't need incremental improvement — we need fundamental change in state government."
Kennedy is the son of the late Sen. Robert Kennedy, who also served as attorney general, and Ethel Kennedy. He is the nephew of former President John F. Kennedy.
The former chairman of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees, Kennedy founded and now leads Top Box Foods, a nonprofit organization that provides affordable, healthy food to Chicago neighborhoods.
He also serves as chairman of Joseph P. Kennedy Enterprises Inc., the Kennedy family's investment firm. He previously managed a real estate company whose holdings included Chicago's Merchandise Mart.
Kennedy, who lives in Kenilworth with his wife and four children, has flirted with running for public office before — including a bid for U.S. Senate — but didn't follow through.
He surfaced as a top contender for governor after he spoke to the Illinois delegation to the Democratic National Convention last summer. Kennedy ripped Rauner's pro-business legislative agenda and blamed him for Illinois' more than one-year state budget stalemate, saying he's inflicting "suffering and chaos" on Illinois.
House Speaker Michael Madigan, who leads the Democratic Party of Illinois, said at the time Kennedy would make an "excellent candidate."
That drew an attack from the Illinois GOP, which has worked to link any potential rivals to Madigan, Rauner's staunchest opponent at the Illinois Capitol.
"Mike Madigan endorsing a run for governor by Chris Kennedy tells you everything you need to know about Chris Kennedy," Illinois Republican Party spokesman Steven Yaffe said. "Chris Kennedy secretly kissed Mike Madigan's ring months ago because he knows Madigan is the real boss."
Kennedy has considerable personal wealth that could help fund a campaign against Rauner, who late last year put $50 million of his personal fortune into his re-election fund.
But first Kennedy could face a difficult Democratic primary. Chicago Alderman Ameya Pawar already has announced he's seeking the nomination, and other Democrats are considering bids, including billionaire businessman J.B. Pritzker, state Sen. Andy Manar and U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos.