Christopher George "Chris" Kennedy (born July 4, 1963) is an American businessman, politician, and Chair of Joseph P. Kennedy Enterprises, Inc. He is a son of former U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy, a member of the Kennedy family. Kennedy served as Chair of the Board of Trustees for the University of Illinois from 2009 to 2015. Until April 2012, he was also president of Merchandise Mart Properties, a commercial property management firm based in Chicago.
|Chair of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees|
September 2009 – January 2015
|Preceded by||Niranjan Shah|
|Succeeded by||Edward McMillan|
|Born||Christopher George Kennedy
July 4, 1963
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||Sheila Sinclair-Berner (m. 1987)|
|Parents||Robert F. Kennedy
|Relatives||See Kennedy family|
|Education||Boston College (BA)
Northwestern University (MBA)
Kennedy was born on July 4, 1963, in Boston, Massachusetts, to Robert Francis Kennedy Sr. and Ethel (née Skakel) Kennedy, the eighth of their eleven children. He is one of four grandchildren of Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy born during the administration of his uncle U.S. President John F. Kennedy. His siblings are:
He grew up at his family home, Hickory Hill, in McLean, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C., and attended the Our Lady of Victory Catholic School in McLean through the eighth grade. He transferred to Georgetown Preparatory School in North Bethesda, Maryland, also a suburb of Washington, and graduated in 1982. While in high school, he volunteered at a home for runaway youth.
Kennedy is chairman of the Kennedy family investment firm Joseph P. Kennedy Enterprises, Inc. He is treasurer of the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation, he was on the Executive Committee for the Chicago Community Trust, and he has been a board member of the Catholic Theological Union, Interface, Inc. and Knoll Inc. He is a member of the mutual fund board of trustees for Ariel Investments.
Kennedy moved from Boston to Decatur to work for Archer Daniels Midland in the 1980s, and has spent his life working around issues of hunger, whether as the chairman of the Greater Chicago Food Depository, or now helping to run the non-profit he and his wife founded, Top Box Foods.
Kennedy was the president of Merchandise Mart Properties in Chicago, Illinois, from 2000 until 2012. The property was originally owned by the Kennedy family until it was sold to Vornado Realty Trust, a real estate investment trust. The Merchandise Mart, one of the properties of Merchandise Mart Properties, is the largest commercial building in the world, serving as both a luxury wholesale design center and one of the leading international business locations in Chicago. The Mart spans two city blocks and rises twenty-five stories for a total of 4.2 million square feet (390,000 square metres) Three million people come through the Mart each year to visit its retail shops, permanent showrooms, and office space as well as attend the numerous trade, consumer and community events hosted there.
In May 2012, Kennedy started the Chicago-based non-profit Top Box Foods. The organization was created as a way to get discounted groceries to families who live in areas that either lack grocery stores or have an abundance of fast food. Kennedy initially invested $150,000 to get Top Box started, and subsequently designed the organization to be self-sustaining.
Top Box as an organization purchases food, boxes it in various combinations and delivers it monthly to churches and organizations in mostly low-income neighborhoods. The food items in the box change from month to month and include a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, meats, and frozen meals, with box prices ranging from $19 to $39. The boxes can be ordered online or through the organizations where the boxes are delivered. These organizations, otherwise known as Top Box "host sites," range from small neighborhood churches with a few dozen families to some of the Chicago's largest, including Trinity United Church of Christ and Salem Baptist Church.
Kennedy met Sheila Sinclair-Berner (born December 4, 1962), an Illinois native, while attending Boston College. After graduating from college in 1986, Kennedy moved to Decatur, Illinois, and married in 1987. The couple had four children, Katherine Berner "Kate" Kennedy (1990-), Christopher George "Chris" Kennedy, Jr. (1992-), Sara Louise Kennedy (1994-), and Clare Rose Kennedy (1998-), whom they are raising in the Chicago suburb of Kenilworth. His wife earned a law degree from Northwestern University and practiced at Sidley & Austin in Chicago before taking time off to take care of their children.
Kennedy's political activism began at an early age, and in 1979 and 1980 he worked on his uncle U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy's bid for the 1980 Democratic Party's nomination for U.S. President. He was also treasurer of the campaign committee for his brother Joe's reelection to the U.S. House in 1988. Over the years he has organized numerous fundraising events in Chicago for his uncle Ted, his sister Kathleen, his brother Joe and his cousin Mark Shriver.
The National Journal once quoted Kennedy as saying, "I have a lot to keep up with: a brother who might run for Congress, a sister and a brother considering races for governor, a cousin who might run for Congress, another in Congress, an uncle in the Senate and a cousin-in-law, Arnold [Schwarzennegger], who is thinking of running for governor."
Beyond his family, Kennedy has served in a variety of capacities for numerous political campaigns, including hosting a fundraiser for Barack Obama in his bid for U.S. Senate.
In August 2009, after considering a run for the U.S. Senate, as did many others, Kennedy decided not to run. Also in August 2009, on the day after his uncle Ted's death on August 25, 2009, Kennedy was appointed to the University of Illinois board of trustees by Democratic Illinois Governor Pat Quinn. On September 10, 2009, Kennedy was elected by the trustees as their chairman.
Kennedy during his campaign for governor advocated for “a property tax system that can’t be abused by the wealthy and insiders” in a fundraising email. Kennedy criticized one of his fellow Democratic gubernatorial candidates, J.B. Pritzker, for getting a large property tax reduction on a Gold Coast mansion. “It’s an inherently corruptible system and we ought to reject it,” Kennedy said to reporters in reference to Pritzker’s property taxes. "The Cook County property tax appeals business is notorious for pricing political connections at a premium," wrote the Illinois Policy Institute, a conservative website. Kennedy has further gone on to state that what Mike Madigan is doing, referring to his conflict of interest from serving as the house speaker while working as a property tax attorney, should be illegal.
Kennedy called for an open primary in the 2018 gubernatorial race, urging the Cook County Democratic party not to throw their weight behind any other candidate, instead allowing for voters to vet all the candidates in the race.
From 1997-1999, Kennedy served as chairman of the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau, a sales-and-marketing organization promoting Chicago to the tourism and convention industries. Under Kennedy's chairmanship, the bureau retained and expanded Chicago's event-and-convention industry.
Since 2000, Kennedy has been a member of the City Club of Chicago, a group that brings together civic and cultural leaders to discuss and debate issues affecting the Chicago area.
Since 2005, he has been a member of the Commercial Club of Chicago, a group that brings together the city's business, educational, and cultural leaders on projects to improve central industries and create new economic opportunities.
As Chairman of Joseph P. Kennedy Enterprises, Inc., Kennedy is responsible for the development of the Kennedy family real estate holdings in Chicago known as Wolf Point, Chicago. The Wolf Point development site represents a billion-dollar commitment to the downtown core, and the site is zoned for construction of a residential apartment building, a self-park garage, and two additional high-rise buildings.
Kennedy also is a partner in Sudbury Station LLC, a development entity proposing a 250-unit luxury rental housing development with a state mandated minimum affordable housing set aside in Sudbury, Massachusetts, designed to meet local housing needs for seniors and the working class community. Proposed on a 39-acre parcel zoned residential near the Historic District of Sudbury, the Village at Sudbury Station would satisfy the Massachusetts affordable housing mandate for Sudbury, would be located close to schools, parks, churches and public safety facilities, and would contribute significant additional tax revenue to the town. The project has received criticism from town officials and residents. Residents voted unamiously to hire a special counsel to stop the development, which they allege violates over thirty local zoning ordinances.