Category: Archive

Illinois contractor is latest envoy favorite

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

The Boston Globe reported Monday that James C. Kenny, vice president and owner of the Kenny construction company, which is based in Wheeling, Ill., “is the Bush administration’s first choice to become U.S. ambassador to Ireland.” The paper’s assertion was based on information from what it described as “a Republican familiar with the selection process.”
A spokeswoman at the Kenny company offices said Tuesday that Mr. Kenny was “not doing interviews.”
Earlier, however, Kenny seemed to confirm an approach by the Bush administration when he told the Globe by phone that becoming ambassador to Ireland was “a discussion I haven’t even had with my family yet.”
Kenny told the paper that he “cannot comment” on whether he would take the job if it was offered.
The need to find a new U.S. ambassador to Ireland follows the surprise decision by the present incumbent, Richard Egan of Massachusetts, to leave Dublin after only 15 months in the job.
Kenny’s credentials would appear to rest heavily on the fact that he is a significant financial donor to the GOP and a personal friend of President Bush. He was the Bush campaign’s finance chairman in Illinois in 2000 though an unnamed source told the Boston Globe that Kenny was “a very nice guy, and not particularly political.”
Kenny served as a member of the transportation advisory committee that advised the incoming Bush administration in 2000. President Bush last year named him as part of the delegation to represent the U.S. at the inauguration of Enrique Bolanos Geyer, president of Nicaragua.
Kenny’s construction company, which has been in business for 70 years, specializes in large-scale transportation-related building projects, such as tunnels and bridges. The company is also rebuilding Solider Field, home of the Chicago Bears football team.
The Soldier Field project features prominently on a company website. The website states that “Kenny Leads the Way” in a wide variety of construction tasks, such as multi-million-dollar infrastructure programs.
“Whether it’s a new way to construct a bridge or our new ‘Take Five for Safety Program,’ we’ve built our reputation by developing new ways of thinking. In a small town or a major city, take a look around. Whatever you see, KENNY probably built it,” the website further states.
As with Egan, Kenny has donated money to both major parties but the bulk of his generosity has been directed toward the Republicans. Kenny personally gave money to the Bush-Cheney Recount Fund following the 2000 election and was also a delegate to the Republican National Convention.
Kenny and his company donated money to the Democratic National Committee and Kenny himself reportedly has close ties to Chicago’s Democratic mayor, Richard M. Daley.
Though his name is now topping the list of favorites, a number of other names in the ambassadorial stakes have been surfacing in recent days. One of them is that of Edward Brennan, also from Illinois and a former chairman and CEO of Sears, Roebuck & Co. Brennan.
The attention apparently being paid by the administration to Illinois and its large Irish-American voting block is not surprising given that Illinois is one of several Midwestern states that are potentially up for grabs in the 2004 presidential election.
Pennsylvania is another state considered vital by the GOP and this has led to some speculation that the administration might attempt to secure an Irish ambassador from there. The name of Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney has surfaced in this context.
Meanwhile, some members of Congress are making a case for just retired House member from New York Ben Gilman. Gilman would be something of a groundbreaking choice in that he is not Irish America. However, Gilman’s interest in Ireland, and the North in particular, goes back many years.
At the same time, the Bush administration has clearly preferred a hands-off ambassador in Dublin with regard to the North, a state of affairs that appears to have caused Egan some frustration during his tenure.

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