Chris Kennedy in the Elevator


You’re in an elevator in Chicago’s Merchandise Mart. The doors gliding open and with a smile as authentic and bright as the sun, Chris Kennedy gets on and says, ‘Hello!’

The resemblance to his father, shot and killed when Chris was five, is so strong that you’re momentarily disoriented by the thought, “Why is Bobby Kennedy getting on the elevator with me in 1998?” But there is friendly warmth and a curiosity in Chris Kennedy’s eyes that puts you at immediate ease. Your company leases space in the Mart. Chris manages the building, which was once the largest commercial building in the world when it was bought by his family. You say something about how much fun and distracting it is to stare out the window of your office and watch the bridges over the Chicago River rise to let the masts of the sailboats go by. He laughs and agrees, says its one of the things he likes best about the place.

The elevator stops on four and as the doors open he asks your name, you tell him and he offers his hand and says, “I’m Chris. Pleasure to meet you.” We shake hands and wave as the elevator doors glide shut.

Twenty some years later, he’s running for Governor of Illinois. Busy guy. But he still had time to attend my aunt’s funeral this past long, sad summer. My Uncle had once worked for Chris’s Uncle Ted a long, long time ago. That he came by to pay his respect for my Aunt, a force of nature in her own right, meant a lot.

Now Chris is running for Governor of Illinois. Some say Illinois has gone past the point of being fixable. Illinois governors often end up in jail. Sometimes for just trying to steal stuff.

I get that the system is broken in a million different ways. That there is no perfect candidate. That it’s all about the money.

But I also remember a speech Chris’s Dad gave in Indianapolis from the back of a flatbed truck on the night Martin Luther King was shot and killed. It’s said that because of this speech, Indianapolis was the only major American city spared from the fires and rage that consumed the country that night.

I think about Bobby Kennedy’s speech –reprinted below–in Indianapolis. Marvel at how he said so much with so few words. I wonder how far the apple fell from the tree. And I believe; not far at all.

The speech follows.
Robert Kennedy
April 4th, 1968
Indianapolis, Indiana

“I have bad news for you, for all of our fellow citizens, and people who love peace all over the world, and that is that Martin Luther King was shot and killed tonight.

Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice for his fellow human beings, and he died because of that effort.

In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it is perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in.

For those of you who are black–considering the evidence there evidently is that there were white people who were responsible–you can be filled with bitterness, with hatred, and a desire for revenge. We can move in that direction as a country, in great polarization–black people amongst black, white people amongst white, filled with hatred toward one another.

Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and to comprehend, and to replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand with compassion and love.

For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and distrust at the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I can only say that I feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man. But we have to make an effort in the United States, we have to make an effort to understand, to go beyond these rather difficult times.

My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He wrote: “In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”
What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black.

So I shall ask you tonight to return home, to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King, that’s true, but more importantly to say a prayer for our own country, which all of us love–a prayer for understanding and that compassion of which I spoke.

We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times; we’ve had difficult times in the past; we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; it is not the end of disorder.

But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings who abide in our land.

Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.
Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people.”

13 Responses to “Chris Kennedy in the Elevator”

  1. toritto Says:

    Bravo Roger. I am going to re-post your wise and timely words on my blog tomorrow. Best regards from Florida.

  2. chicagoguy14 Says:

    Thank you Frank!

    • Paul Haider Says:

      Thank you, Roger. I was so honored to talk with Chris at my mom’s funeral in July. As we spoke next to her body in the casket, I told him that his job as governor would be to imitate the incredible work of Mark Dayton in Minnesota and Jerry Brown in California. I said, “Chris, you will have to do the exact opposite of Reaganomics in order to financially save the state of Illinois.” Chris laughed in full agreement. As I write this response, Chris is down by seven points to billionaire Big Boy Pritzker. If a miracle is going to occur, then I will thank Bobby Kennedy for it. I voted for Bernie in 2016 because I was unable to vote for Bobby in 1968. Paul Haider, Chicago

  3. chicagoguy14 Says:

    Paul–Thanks for that comment! (And for the “likes” on the multiple posts. I sent this out to my distribution list that includes “Finding Work” “I’m Your Neighbor” and friends–and am getting TONS of responses back saying “I’m for Chris!” So that miracle you spoke of just might be in the works!

    • Paul Haider Says:

      There is one final rally that is tonight for Chris at the Moody Tongue Brewery at 2136 S. Peoria Street. My caustic and moody tongue will not be pleased after Pritzker buys this election, but I suppose that he would be a slight improvement over Bruce “Not Springsteen” Rauner.

  4. chicagoguy14 Says:


    • Paul Haider Says:

      Slightly massive improvement over one-termer Rauner(AKA Bruce “Not Springsteen” Rauner).

  5. chicagoguy14 Says:

    Oh yes!

  6. pinkyy9 Says:

    Makes me think that he’s a better candidate than he is given credit for. Many of us can’t help mourning the loss of Bobby almost as much as JFK, perhaps more, as he could have been pivotal in reacting with more acceptance to the demands for government integrity and closure for the difficult war in Viet Nam. He probably wouldn’t have established an “Enemies list”, unlike Mr. Nixon,

    • chicagoguy14 Says:

      It was Chris’s first time as a candidate. He’ll be back. (I hope)

    • Paul Haider Says:

      If and when Dick Durbin retires from the Senate, Chris should become a senator like his father. Once again, I voted for Bernie in 2016 because I was unable to vote for Bobby in 1968. I will get a chance to vote for Bobby’s son again in the future.

  7. chicagoguy14 Says:

    Me too!

  8. Paul Haider Says:

    Before fleeing Chicago in July of 2018, I voted for Chris Kennedy in March for the governor’s primary among Democrats in Illinois. I voted for Bernie Sanders for the presidential primary in March of 2016 because I wasn’t able to vote for Bobby Kennedy in March of 1968. Paul Haider

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