I was a longtime political junkie but I’ve steered clear of politics for the past seven years. I don’t watch political shows on TV and stopped listening to political shows on radio. However, it’s difficult to escape politics in Forest Park. Especially when Chris Kennedy was campaigning here for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2018.

I’m from a generation that idolized the Kennedys. So it was a thrill when Kennedy marched in our St. Patrick’s Day Parade, glad-handing voters along Madison Street. He also went door-to-door in my neighborhood. Kennedy even climbed my front stairs to shake my hand. He looked and sounded like a classic Kennedy. 

I wasn’t aware of Kennedy’s strong ties to Illinois. He is president of Merchandise Mart Properties and chairman of the Greater Chicago Food Depository. He holds positions with the University of Illinois and Dominican University. This was his first run for elective office but he lost the primary to J.B. Pritzker.  

I thought that was the end of my involvement with the Kennedys, until I received an email from a staffer for the political campaign of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. She attached a column I wrote in 2018. It was a feel-good piece about a close-knit family operating a restaurant in Forest Park. She asked me to connect her with this family because Kennedy wanted to interview them for a speech he was delivering on April 19, 2023.

I was flattered that a Kennedy was asking for my help. I was completely ignorant of Robert’s track record or his current politics. I just knew I had to connect the family with his campaign. I first visited the former site of the restaurant. The new owners denied having any information about the previous owners.

Then I went to village hall and filled out a written request for information on the restaurateurs. It turned out their contact information was out-of-date and their phone number was disconnected. Finally, I sent them a message on their Facebook page. They responded enthusiastically at first. But when I told them a politician named Robert F. Kennedy Jr. wanted to interview them, they stopped responding. 

Despite their reluctance, I was still determined to locate the family. That’s when I learned of some controversial statements by RFK Jr. He claimed that childhood vaccines cause autism. He was very much against the COVID vaccine and critical of lockdowns to control the spread of COVID. I finally understood why Kennedy wanted to interview the family. 

Their restaurant had been thriving prior to the pandemic. But when Gov. Pritzker ordered a statewide lockdown in March 2020, many restaurants like theirs scrambled to survive. When the restaurant finally went out of business, it tore their hearts out.

I assume Kennedy wanted to showcase the family as victims of Pritzker’s pandemic policies. He could blame the lockdown for causing this family-owned restaurant to close. That’s when I stopped my efforts to find the family.

RFK Jr. also embraces some liberal causes. He is an environmentalist who campaigned for Al Gore. He is in favor of phasing out fossil fuels. He says he’s an advocate for “safe” vaccines and had all six of his kids vaccinated.

At the same time, he promotes bizarre conspiracy theories. This has made him popular with some conservative Democrats and right-wing Republicans. His family, though, is disgusted when he claims Sirhan Sirhan did not assassinate his father. 

My encounters with the Kennedys shows the political divide in our country runs deep. It also demonstrates that when it comes to divisive national politics, even the Review is not immune. 

John Rice

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.