Gubernatorial candidate Chris Kennedy left the stage during a forum on Monday after Republican State Rep. Jeanne Ives argued the solution to gun violence in Illinois was having “more fathers in the home.”
Kennedy, a Democrat, replied by pointing out he had grown up without a father before standing up and walking out of the venue.
For the Winnetka businessman and politician, gun violence is personal. Both his father and uncle – Sen. Robert Kennedy (D) and President John F. Kennedy (D), respectively – were shot and killed during the turbulent 1960s.
Kennedy has made gun violence a top priority of his campaign since he declared his candidacy last February, earning endorsements from African-American Congressmen Bobby Rush and Danny Davis in the process.
"It hit a very special nerve for me," Kennedy said in an interview with NBC 5. "I lost my father to someone with a gun. For someone to say simply the solution is to have a father-in-law – I don’t know. How shall I react? What should my family have done?"
Kathleen Murphy, a spokesperson for Ives, said in a statement Monday night that the representative did not mean to offend Mr. Kennedy during the forum.
However, Murphy also reiterated the importance of fathers in domestic life, citing "similar statements" like President Barack Obama's 2008 Father's Day speech at the Apostolic Church of God on Chicago's South Side. In his speech, the then-candidate said, "too many fathers also are is missing — missing from too many lives and too many homes."
"Those are President Obama's words, and that was what she was echoing today," Murphy said. "She certainly meant no offense to Mr. Kennedy."
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Kennedy made the decision to leave after watching the 2016 Republican primary debates, where he said, “the Republican Party allowed Donald Trump to say racist and simplistic things.” Kennedy argued that Republicans should have vacated the stage in protest like he did when he heard “simplistic solutions to tragic problems.”
Kennedy’s running mate, Ra Joy, has also been personally stricken by gun violence. His son Xavier was killed by gunfire in Hyde Park last June. After returning home from college for the summer, his family believes he was killed for his cell phone just two blocks from his home.
Kennedy quoted his running mate when it came to tackling violence.
“As Ra points out, hurt people hurt people,” he said. “We need to be sensitive to that; think in terms of empathy and not in terms of punishment, and that’s not what I was hearing today.”