By Will Connors

CHICAGO -- Democrat Chris Kennedy, the son of the late Sen. Robert Kennedy, entered the Illinois governor's race on Wednesday amid a dire state budget crisis and contentious negotiations between the current governor and state lawmakers.

"I've seen from so many different vantage points the potential of the state, then I see the failing of the government," Mr. Kennedy said in a video message posted Wednesday. "There's growing despair, there's bewilderment. The state needs change."

Mr. Kennedy, 53 years old, will be running against current Republican Governor Bruce Rauner, a former private equity executive who recently donated $50 million to his own re-election campaign.

Mr. Kennedy is the founder of TopBox Foods, a Chicago nonprofit that aims to provide healthy, affordable food to underserved neighborhoods, and is the former president of real estate firm Merchandise Mart Properties.

He is the first name-brand candidate to announce a run against Mr. Rauner, and will need to fundraise aggressively to keep pace with his deep-pocketed opponent.

He also steps into a fight over how to solve the state's unprecedented budget crisis.

No state had gone without a budget for over a year since the Great Depression until Illinois, which is now nearing its second year without a working budget.

Illinois is currently more than $11 billion behind on paying its bills, according to the comptroller's office.

The state is still funding certain core functions, but many nonprofits have had to shut down or reduce operations and lay off staff after going without payments from the state.

Illinois has the lowest credit rating among U.S. states and a large unfunded pension liability. In December, the U.S. Census Bureau released figures showing that the state lost more citizens than any other for the third year in a row.

Write to Will Connors at william.connors@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

February 08, 2017 13:10 ET (18:10 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2017 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.