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Democrat Kennedy calls Republican Ives' gun crime solution ignorant and stupid

Chicago Tribune logoChicago Tribune 1/16/2018 Rick Pearson

Democratic governor contender Chris Kennedy abruptly left a candidate forum Monday, criticizing Republican candidate Jeanne Ives for what he called "ignorance and stupidity" after she said Chicago's gun violence could be solved if more fathers stayed in the home.

The controversy came when Ives, a three-term conservative lawmaker from Wheaton who is challenging Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, responded to a question on curbing gun crimes.

"The problem is the gun violence in this city of Chicago, predominantly. And you know how you're going to solve it? Fathers in the home," she said. As the audience booed and shouted, she repeated, "Fathers in the home."

Kennedy later got his turn to respond.

"Well, I wish I could agree with you. I didn't have a father in my life. Somebody shot him," Kennedy, the son of the assassinated former U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, said to Ives before he left the forum amid applause and a standing ovation from hundreds of attendees.

Ives was the lone Republican candidate attending the event, which featured the leading Democratic candidates for governor. It was held by the Community Renewal Society, a progressive and faith-based group, at Old St. Patrick's Church in the West Loop Gate neighborhood.

As expected, Ives was frequently at odds with the Democratic candidates, and she occasionally drew the scorn of the audience as she repeatedly suggested city and county residents share in the blame for such issues as crime, high taxes and a lack of quality public education because they re-elect Democrats.

"That is your problem. Your taxes are too high and opportunity's not here," she said. "We need jobs and opportunity, and we're not going to get that if you keep electing these same people as before."

But it was her brief answer about Chicago gun crimes that prompted the biggest reaction - most notably from Kennedy, who had not yet turned 5 when his father was slain by an assassin's bullet during the 1968 presidential campaign.

"You know, some stuff hits a raw nerve and, um, I think that should be a debate about great ideas, a clash, and not one of emotions," Kennedy said as he exited about an hour into the 90-minute forum.

"But when I hear such ignorance and stupidity aired out by someone who knows so little about so much, I don't think there's an appropriate place for them to be on a podium on a dais with other people who have given these issues thought and have the emotional capacity to be empathetic at the same time," he said.

Kennedy also was scheduled to make an appearance an hour later at a Rev. Martin Luther King celebration at a church in the Grand Crossing neighborhood on the South Side.

A Kennedy aide said later that the candidate's quick departure was not to ensure making his next event on time. Indeed, Kennedy was late getting to the West Loop forum following an earlier event with Rainbow PUSH, and drew some audience reaction when he told them to blame his untimely arrival on "Jesse Jackson."

Asked afterward about Kennedy's reaction to her comment, Ives defended her belief that absentee fathers are a significant factor in crime. She went so far as to speculate that the son of Kennedy running mate Ra Joy, who was killed near the University of Chicago in June, was killed by someone who lacked a father's influence.

"I'm sure Ra Joy, whoever the perpetrator was against his son, I'm imagining that person also did not have a father figure in the home," Ives said.

As for Kennedy, Ives said, "he's obviously very sensitive about (his father's death) and I can understand why. It's horrible. I'll be honest with you, it didn't even, I didn't connect the two because the two aren't connected."

As a first-time presidential candidate, Barack Obama assailed the absence of black fathers as a contributing factor to problems plaguing the African-American community. During a 2008 speech in Chicago, Obama said "children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime, nine times more likely to drop out of schools and 20 times more likely to end up in prison."

Experts have said absence of a father and the breakup of the traditional family is but one of several factors that contribute to someone turning to crime. Other factors include lack of job and educational opportunities for youths and parents' economic status and schooling.

Kennedy has made gun violence a major tenet of his campaign for governor, citing the family history of his running mate and himself. Kennedy's uncle, the late President John F. Kennedy, also was assassinated.

A Democratic rival for the nomination, J.B. Pritzker, who lost his father to a heart attack at age 7, said of Kennedy's response to Ives, "I think (there are) too many people unfortunately losing family members to gun violence. I don't know what was going through Chris' head other than I can only imagine the grief that he feels when he thinks of his father's death."

As for Ives' solution for gun crimes, Pritzker said, "It's not just an issue about how many parents are in the home. It's about quality education. It's about health care. It's about jobs. If you want to avoid violence in a community, provide real economic opportunity. She doesn't understand any of that."

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