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Bernard Schoenburg

Kennedy waxes poetic at Democratic Day brunch

Candidate: Where is the reverence for our country?

Candidate: Where is the reverence for our country?

The nine Democratic candidates for governor – some better known than others – had a great audience of 1,800 party faithful at the Democratic County Chairmen's Association at the Crowne Plaza on the State Fair's Democrat Day last week.

In his speech, one of them, Chris Kennedy, didn't take the usual tack — he didn't mention Gov. Bruce Rauner. Instead, he concentrated on reacting to recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. And part of that included quoting passages from a Walt Whitman poem written upon the assassination death of Abraham Lincoln as the Civil War was ending.

The poem, "Oh Captain! My Captain!" says the captain's "fearful trip is done" and "the prize we sought is won," but the captain's "lips are pale and still" and "He has no pulse or will."

Kennedy said the poem was a metaphor for Lincoln's life, and "set the tone" for reverence people should have for the country.

"Where is that tone today?" he asked. "Where is that reverence today?"

He told me he had prepared a regular "3-minute political speech," but decided to "honor the moment" of the violence in Charlottesville, where neo-Nazis were among marchers and a woman protesting that march was killed by a car driven into a crowd. Two state police troopers monitoring the events died in a helicopter crash.

Kennedy said there will be plenty of time before the March primary to pitch his electoral attributes.

One of 11 children, Kennedy was 4 years old when his father, Robert F. Kennedy, was assassinated in 1968.

"When I was growing up, my mother made us recite a poem every Sunday night at dinner," Kennedy told me. "So my brothers and sisters and I all have a pretty good repertoire of poems. So I knew that poem." He said talk of the dead captain in the poem reminded him of President Donald Trump's responses to Charlottesville.

In the speech, Kennedy said Trump provided "no comfort" to the grieving families, but instead "comfort and encouragement to the extremists and the domestic terrorists."

He talked of "countless hours on my knees as a small child," visiting graves of his father and his uncle, President John F. Kennedy, in Arlington National Cemetery, located on one-time property of Robert E. Lee – the Confederate general whose statue in Charlottesville was the trigger for the violent encounters.

He said what America needs today is "a heart filled with compassion," but it seems "we have a president whose pale lips are still, and what's worse, he lacks heart and he lacks will."

I asked Kennedy how he thought the speech went over. He said it's hard to tell, but he said what he had to say.

Kennedy, when talking to reporters, did criticize Rauner's "hesitation, his lack of moral compass," in the aftermath of Charlottesville. Rauner did, on Wednesday, say that he "vehemently" disagreed with Trump's blaming both sides for violence.

Another Democrat for governor, J.B. Pritzker, was far more traditional in his speech – thanking the event hosts, praising party workers and allies, introducing his running mate and his wife – while also blasting away at Trump and Rauner.

But Pritzker also used a quote – from the late Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate who died last year. Pritzker said he met Wiesel while working to build the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie.

People must "always take sides," Pritzker quoted Wiesel. "Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim."

Kennedy waxes poetic at Democratic Day brunch OPINION: Bernard Schoenburg: Kennedy gets poetic at Democrat Day brunch0ec973d5-cf37-463a-9b7e-fb9fcb8db388/image-pv_web.jpgshaw-push-component-1