Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Kennedy‘s tragic childhood loss of his father, Robert F. Kennedy, to murder means he understands the gun violence problems plaguing Chicago “better than most,” says his cousin, former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy.
And the former congressman says he has spoken about the issue with his cousin Chris. “It’s not just a policy decision for him — he’s personally invested in this issue,” he says.
Patrick Kennedy was speaking to Chicago Inc. on Tuesday between two events to promote the work of the Kennedy Forum in tackling mental health and addiction issues, both of which he has had public personal battles with and has written about in a best-selling book.
Attended by Democratic power brokers including U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the events gave Kennedy a chance to press the flesh and remind them of his family’s fabled magic.
“I think they appreciate how the legacy informs all of us,” Patrick Kennedy said. “They all know Chris because they’ve worked with Chris for three decades out here and they all shared that with me and I appreciate that.”
In speeches at a breakfast meeting in River North and at lunchtime at Mount Sinai Hospital, the former Rhode Islander alluded to the effect the murders of his uncles President John F. Kennedy and former U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy had on his father, U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy.
“My dad suffered from tremendous trauma — think about the trauma you’ve experienced here in Chicago,” he said. “My father saw two of his brothers murdered, not assassinated, murdered, and the impact on all my cousins and growing up without a father because of the impact gun violence had innumerable mental health effects that reverberated around my family that we never discussed, never discussed.”
“The common struggle is the fact that we all face silence when it comes to any discussion about these issues. And our response to that is to break the silence.”
Patrick Kennedy told Chicago Inc. that gun violence is a subject he has discussed with his cousin, who was just 4 when his father was killed in 1968, because “it’s effected our family profoundly. He knows better than most what’s going on here in Chicago that all those children are growing up without parents because they’re victims of gunshots.
“Chris knows that story — it’s not academic to him. It’s not just a policy decision for him. He’s personally invested in this issue. He knows the profound effects of violence. And (Chicago) is ground zero for that violence, and Chris is someone who connects to that issue on the most intimate level.”
He added, “I think with Chris we’re going to see these people getting the treatment which they should be getting and which they’ve been denied simply because of discrimination and bigotry, and it won’t happen anymore under a Gov. Chris Kennedy administration.”
Fired up, Patrick Kennedy in his public comments said that his grandparents’ and parents’ generations had not known how to deal with mental health issues or addiction. His father told his brother that “all I needed was swift kick in the ass because he didn’t understand mental illness and addiction because he came from a generation that never talked about it,” he said.
His aunt Rosemary was given a lobotomy and placed in an institution in Wisconsin, where her brothers were forbidden to visit her until after her father’s death, he noted. And his grandmother on his mother’s side “died of alcoholism and wasn’t found for a week after she slipped in the shower and died in Cocoa Beach, Fla., because she had so alienated herself from everyone around her that none of her children wanted to talk to her.”
Chris Kennedy did not attend either event Tuesday, and his staff did not respond to a request for comment.
Durbin — perhaps the most keenly sought endorsement in the Democratic gubernatorial primary — said he had not been pressed by Patrick to side with Chris Kennedy and that he had not yet decided whether he would endorse any of the contenders.
“I’ve learned the hard way to wait until people file petitions and the time for withdrawal has passed,” he told Chicago Inc. “Many people change their minds along the way. But I’m glad that we have a lot of good candidates.”