Leading Dem Gov Primary Candidates Pritzker, Kennedy & Biss at Rainbow Push: Eye on the Prize.

Only three of the six candidates have a shot to win the Dem Primary

Pritzker and Kennedy seem to view [a Progressive Income Tax] as a means to provide a free lunch to middle class and low income voters.

The real news is that there was no mention of or questions about reforming state employee pensions, Medicaid or education (other than the state education funding formula and expanding the State contribution to total K-12 education funding)...

And, moderator Brandis Friedman never questioned the candidates on [workers comp. reform, a property tax freeze...] the very reforms and issues which are said to relate to growing the IL economy and jobs.

So, the biggest question coming out of the Forum-- What was moderator and author of the forum questions Brandis Friedman [WTTW's Chicago Tonight correspondent] thinking? [See, below]


Friday night, with an audience of about 150 people, six Democratic Primary candidates for Governor squared off, for about 90 minutes, at a Forum at Rainbow Push, about a half mile from the University of Chicago on Chicago’s South Side.  Rev. Jesse Jackson gave a brief introduction and close to the Program.

Brandis Friedman, WTTW Chicago Tonight correspondent, moderated the forum. Although the audience was asked to submit questions, only one audience question was used during the 90 minute forum. The remaining questions apparently all came from Friedman.

From left: Brandis Friedman, Sen. Biss, Daiber, Rev. Jackson sliding into the pic, Hardiman, Kennedy, Pawar at Friday night's Rainbow Push Dem Gov candidate forum on the south side of Chicago

From left: Brandis Friedman, Sen. Daniel Biss, Bob Daiber, Rev. Jesse Jackson sliding into the pic, Tio Hardiman, Chris Kennedy, Ald. Ameya Pawar and JB Pritzker at Friday night's Rainbow Push Dem Gov candidate forum on the south side of Chicago

Although not politically correct to say-- only three of the six candidates have a shot to win the Democratic Primary: Pritzker, Kennedy and Biss

Backgrounds of the first tier candidates: JB Pritzker and Chris Kennedy  

The leading two Democratic Candidates for Governor, based on early polling and assessments of financial ability to wage a complete campaign, campaign organization and message are JB Pritzker, 52 (Chicago) and Chris Kennedy, 54 (Kenilworth).  The two have a number of similarities in their background. Both come from families of substantial means and neither has held elected office.

However, Pritzker’s family is ranked by Fortune as one of the wealthiest in the country and JB, himself, is said to be worth about 3.4 billion dollars.

Chris Kennedy is a part of the storied Kennedy family, fortune and political dynasty that was cut short by assassins.  He was not yet five months old when his uncle, JFK, had his Presidency cut short in the third year of his term by Lee Harvey Oswald’s rifle shot in Dallas in 1963. And Chris Kennedy was not yet five years old when his father, Bobby Kennedy, was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan as Bobby campaigned for President in the California Democratic presidential primary in 1968.

But Chris Kennedy- although former President of the Merchandise Mart commercial property management firm for a dozen years and manager of the Kennedy family investments-  has nothing like JB’s net worth.

Nevertheless, no one will need to hold a tag day for Mr. Kennedy anytime soon, and as the consultants say, all you need for a competitive campaign is to be able to raise funds sufficient to have that “critical mass” to get your message out. Kennedy should be able to do that.

Chris Kennedy pressing the flesh and taking pics w/ supporters after Friday night's Rainbow Push Dem Gov Candidate Forum

Chris Kennedy, nephew of JFK and son of RFK pressing the flesh and taking pics w/ supporters after Friday night's Rainbow Push Dem Primary Gov Candidate Forum

To supplement their own funds, both Pritzker and Kennedy travel in wealthy circles and networks and both will have numerous donors ready and able to assist in the primary and the general election, if either gets there.

Chris Kennedy met the former Sheila Sinclair Berner while they were attending Boston College and they have been married for thirty years, with four kids ranging in age from 19 to 27.  Mr. Kennedy attended high school at Georgetown Prep in Maryland, then majored in Political Science at Boston College, where he got his undergraduate degree before earning an MBA from Northwestern University.

Kennedy’s wife got her law degree from Northwestern University (Now the Pritzker Northwestern University School of law), and practiced at Chicago’s Sidley & Austin before staying at home to raise the Kennedy’s children.

JB Pritzker went to a Massachusetts high school boarding school and then got his undergraduate degree from Duke in political science and a JD from Northwestern Law School. Mr. Pritzker, twenty years ago, formed a venture capital investment firm that became the largest venture investment firm in the Midwest, and his firm invests in rapidly growing technology firms.

JB Pritzker, larger than life, pressing the flesh and taking pics after Friday night's Rainbow Push Dem Primary Gov Candidate Forum

JB Pritzker, larger than life, pressing the flesh and taking pics after Friday night's Rainbow Push Dem Primary Gov Candidate Forum

JB Pritzker has been married twenty-four years to the former Mary Kathryn Muenster, and they live in Chicago with their two teenage children.

Both Pritzker and Kennedy have an extensive background in business and both started their careers with the help of substantial family wealth. And both have apparently grown their wealth positions substantially over the years.

Further, both Pritzker and Kennedy have been extensively involved in philanthropy and directly trying to help low income individuals. Both have the view that those who have been given much by their families have an obligation to work hard to assist others who have been less fortunate.

Biss and Pawar- 2nd tier candidates

State Senator Daniel Biss (Evanston), 40, 7th year state legislator and Chicago Alderman Ameya Pawar, 37, 6th year alderman, are definitely 2nd tier in terms of having the financial ability and organization to wage a credible campaign.  Neither seems to have much in the way of personal net worth.

However, Biss raised significant funds from high net worth donors for a PAC to promote ideas/issues that implicitly, if not explicitly, supported Hillary’s campaign in the 2016 Presidential election.  If the Senator is able to use that network of donors, or a similar one as a base for raising funds for this race, he could take off. He certainly has the intellectual and political skills to be a player in this race.

Biss also has the argument that his legislative experience and knowledge make him more likely to be able to accomplish the Democratic Party’s and especially the Progressive wing’s objectives than is true with Pritzker and Kennedy. Further, Biss’s knowledge of the issues and polished speaking style—and his youthful, athletic appearance—may give him an edge on the campaign stomp and with the all-important progressive wing of the Democratic Primary.

There seems to be little or no evidence that Ald. Pawar has financial angels who will swoop in and give him the financial muscle that will match his admittedly sparkling political skills that allowed him to pull a big upset to win his 2011 aldermanic race and then his 2015 re-election effort by the largest margin of any alderman. An aldermanic upset is one thing, Governor, quite another.


Hardiman and Daiber- not credible, serious Gov candidates    

Almost all pundits would opine that both Tio Hardiman (long ago head of CeaseFire and the only African-America in the race) and Bob Daiber (Regional County Schools Superintendent and the only downstater in the race) are lacking in the requisite political base, experience, financial muscle and organization to be serious gubernatorial candidates, so this author won’t discuss their specific forum positions and performances in this post.


Drury and Petarakis- not credible, serious Gov candidates   

Two Candidates for Governor, State Rep. Scott Drury  (Highland Park) and Alex Petarakis, did not attend the Forum and neither of them is viewed by most pundits as credible candidates for Governor, as they are lacking in in the requisite political base, experience, financial muscle and organization to be serious gubernatorial candidates.

We are looking to have all the candidates for Governor on our show, including Hardiman, Daiber, Drury and Petarakis.  If they agree to come on the show, they  will of course be treated fairly. I am just stating what most pundits would say, if they were not trying to be political correct. That is, it is hard to see a path to victory in the Democratic Primary for any of these four.

The Forum Issues—Progressive income tax and $15 minimum wage.

As you would expect in a primary, there was not a lot to divide the six candidates at the Democratic Primary Forum on the issues.  All raised their hand to indicate they favor a progressive state income tax and an increase in the minimum wage. Further, it appears from their discussion that they favor (although some were more explicit than others) moving rapidly to a $15/hour state minimum wage.  The current state minimum wage is $8.25.

Unemployment and jobs

There are many in the Republican Party and even some in the Democratic Party who believe that the relatively high unemployment in Illinois relative to other states, and high relative unemployment rates especially among lower skilled minorities [IL is highest in the nation for Blacks] will be exacerbated by the increase in the IL minimum wage.

But, moderator Friedman never raised this issue, even though Democratic voters would surely like to know which of the candidates would handle it best when raised by the likely Republican nominee, Gov. Rauner, in the general election.

Indeed the topics of jobs and unemployment were conspicuous by their absence from last night’s discussion. Rev. Jackson did mention these topics in passing last night, but certainly not in connection with an increased minimum wage.

Oppositon to School vouchers and school choice. 

All the candidates present dogmatically opposed school vouchers and all spoke negatively about charter schools. However, they don’t seem ready to burn the charter schools down—apparently they would just impose a moratorium on growth of new charters, which is essentially what last year’s CTU-CPS contract did, and CPS is the primary source of charter schools in the State.

Preference of many minorities for school choice?

There are numerous polls showing that charter schools on the west and south sides of Chicago are quite popular with minorities.  Moreover, there are long waiting lists filled by minorities to enter charter schools after the schools reach capacity.

The support by minority parents for charter schools and the opposition to charters by the likely Democratic Party nominee for Governor will surely be raised by the presumptive Republican Gov nominee during the general election campaign. Again, moderator Brandis ignored the issue.

Chris Kennedy was the only candidate to come close to this issue when he noted that the very low academic performance by minorities, as demonstrated by low ACT scores, is creating and maintaining an underclass in Chicago. Again, instead of following up on this issue with questions to other candidates, moderator Friedman let it go like a hot potato.

Pritzker--Judge us on what we do, not say

A recurring theme that Pritzker pounded home on Friday night, as he does all over in his stomp speech, is that he was taught by his parents that the tenets of his faith [Jewish? Old Testament] require him to pursue justice, and that his parents taught him not just to say these things, but to actually practice them.

So, JB discusses a massive free breakfast program for low income minorities that he brought about, as an example of his pursuit of social justice. As he says, can kids really learn when they are hungry? And, what is more important than kids learning.

In this way, Pritzker attempts to convert his great wealth from a disadvantage to an advantage that enables him to practice social justice and connect with the voters.

So, at some point, JB will turn to Chris Kennedy and ask him if he has used his wealth to create a free breakfast program. And, if Biss rises in the polls, JB will ask Biss what legislative programs he has created.

Indeed, when Barack Obama ran for the U. S. Senate and then President, he referred to 25 "Pieces of legislation,"  that he sponsored and passed into law. If Biss rises in the polls, both Pritzker and Kennedy will challenge him on his legislative performance. What will Biss’ response be?

Moreover, JB can connect his practical work on early childhood education with his philanthropic contributions to the research of Jim Heckman, Nobel prize winner in Economics, and the work Heckman has done on the positive impact of early childhood education.

In the belly of the Beast-- Advantage Pritzker?

So, JB will ask Kennedy when has he connected his philanthropy to a practical improvement in early childhood education. As Pritzker said on Friday night, “I’ve done big things and I’m a big guy.”

And, Pritzker has done the same thing in his TV ads, trying to laugh with the voters about his large physical size and belly.

When a pol has a possible political problem that his competitors might exploit, smart pols don’t try to hide from it. Can’t be done. Hang a lantern on it, and try to turn it to your advantage. To some extent, JB did that on Friday night when he he hoped everyone would laugh when they saw his belly, converting a usual losing point into a winner.

Bashing Rauner on the Budget and Taxes

In sum, the two leading Democratic Candidates for Governor, Pritzker and Kennedy, seemed content on Friday night to bash Rauner for not passing a budget in his first two years in office and not raising taxes on “The rich and Corporations.” Gov. Rauner’s actions were blamed for destroying the safety net by not funding human service providers.

Pritzker and Kennedy both argued, explicitly or implicitly, they will elect more Democrats to join their progressive tax quest and persuade the existing Democratic legislators to support a Progressive Tax.  In a sense, they seem to view that tax as the means to promise a free lunch to the middle class and low income voters.  As most supporters of moving to a progressive tax see it, these folks all get increased government services and the rich pay for the expanded services.

Pension, Medicaid and Education reforms ignored in the forum

The most striking thing about the forum was that the only “reform,” that was mentioned and supported by all candidates was campaign finance “Reform.”  And, of course, nobody believes Pritzker would want to limit the amount he could spend in the primary or the general election, but nobody picked on JB.

And, JB mentioned, almost in passing, that his ability to self finance means that he will not to be beholden to campaign contributors-- not unlike what Trump argued in the 2016 Republican Presidential Primary.

Public safety and police conduct

There was mention of police misconduct, wrongful convictions, criminal justice reform, root causes of crime and IL (and especially Chicago) being awash in guns from out of state and Chicago suburban gun shops, but not what anyone would call a serious discussion or debate of law enforcement, public safety and criminal justice issues.

The candidates almost spoke as if no real criminals exist-- just some unfortunates who are mistreated by police. As they sang in "West Side Story," these individuals are "Depraved because they are deprived." That will come as news to citizens who live in low income, crime infested areas of the State.

Forum ignored most budget, business and civic  reform issues

So, the real news is that there was little or no mention of or questions about reforming state employee pensions, Medicaid or education (other than the state education funding formula and expanding the contribution of the State to total K-12 education spending in the state). Yet these items are the primary drivers of state spending.

Nor was there any discussion of workers comp. reform, a property tax freeze, modernization of the sales tax, redistricting reform, term limits, prevailing wage reform or modification of local government collective bargaining with public sector unions.

And, moderator Brandis Friedman never questioned the candidates on theses issue, many of which are said to relate to growing the IL economy and jobs.  So, the biggest question coming out of the Forum is for the Moderator- What was Brandis Friedman thinking?

Leave a comment