SOUTH LOOP — State Rep. Kambium “Kam” Buckner is running for mayor, hoping to oust Mayor Lori Lightfoot from City Hall in 2023.
Buckner, 37, announced his candidacy Thursday in the South Loop after weeks of speculation. The South Side state rep vowed to tackle the city’s crime, schools and economic recovery.
Serving the 26th state House district which stretches from the Gold Coast to the Southeast Side — “the most diverse district in the state from socioeconomic and demographic standpoint” — has given Buckner unique insight into the city, he told Block Club Wednesday.
“The district looks a lot like Chicago,” Buckner said. “… Being in that role has been incredibly telling to me. It’s given me a very clear view into what happens when we have a tale of two cities — what happens when we have robust investment on one hand, and robust disinvestment or benign neglect on the other hand.”
Buckner is a native South Sider who grew up in Washington Heights and Roseland. He now lives in Bronzeville with his partner and their infant child.
He was a defensive lineman at the University of Illinois and worked for U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu after graduating.
Buckner formerly served as executive director of World Sport Chicago, the nonprofit that stems from Chicago’s failed bid for the 2016 Olympics, worked for the Cubs in community relations and was on Chicago State University’s board.
He was appointed to the House in 2019, as his predecessor Christian Mitchell took on the role of deputy governor. He won a full term in 2020 after running unopposed and serves as chair of the House Black Caucus.
Buckner touted his work as House co-sponsor for the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act and his representation of “more hospitals than anyone else in the state Legislature,” including the University of Chicago Medical Center and Provident, Jackson Park and Northwestern Memorial hospitals.
Buckner is running for mayor on what he calls a “four-star” platform, aiming to address public safety, public education, equitable economic development and sustainable budgeting if elected.
He called on Chicago Police to adopt a “community policing” approach that prioritizes residents’ needs, rather than “neighborhood policing” based on geography.
This people-over-places mentality would transfer to his governance over the economy and tourism efforts as well, Buckner said.
“We have to find a way to celebrate the places and spaces that we occupy — their diversity, their importance, their significance — but more importantly, the people who live there,” he said.
Buckner, a Morgan Park High School graduate, said “equitable and effective” public education would be a pillar for his administration. His mother spent more than three decades as a Chicago Public Schools teacher, while his older sister is a CPS principal and younger sister is a teacher in the district.
“We’ve got to find ways to make sure CPS is fully funded … and that CPS is fully funding the schools within the district that need it the most: The schools that have been left behind and starved for many years,” he said.
Buckner intends to directly negotiate a new contract with the Chicago Teachers Union in 2024 if elected — “not by proxy, not from behind the podium, not through press releases,” he said at his campaign’s launch Thursday. The announcement was made outside the Tea Pot Brew Bakery, 1802 S. Wabash Ave
Buckner criticized Lightfoot’s governing style prior to announcing his candidacy. The mayor’s personality limits her ability to address Chicago’s violent crime and educational needs, he told the Sun-Times in March.
“The verdict is still out” on Lightfoot’s Invest South/West community development initiative, he told Block Club. He vowed to analyze it and other economic programs further before deciding whether he’d maintain them as mayor.
“I’m not going to throw away anything good just because it’s not mine,” Buckner said. “If it’s good and it’s working for the people, we should find a way to celebrate that, to elevate the narrative and make it better. But if we see programs that are smoke and mirrors … we’ve got to cut bait and start over again.”
Buckner has twice pleaded guilty to driving under the influence. The first incident took place in Champaign in the fall of 2010, when a Breathalyzer test showed Buckner’s blood alcohol level to be more than twice the legal limit. He was sentenced to 24 months of court supervision and 200 hours of public service, according to the Tribune.
In 2019, he was found asleep at the wheel one block from the Capitol in Springfield. He declined a Breathalyzer test at the time, pleaded guilty in March and was sentenced to 12 months of conditional discharge, according to the Tribune.
Calling the arrests “mistakes” and “missteps,” Buckner said he’s never shied away from his actions. He took a voluntary alcohol evaluation and substance use classes, and has “spent a great amount of time” in counseling with his pastor, he said.
“In being honest with myself, my God, my family and my friends and my constituents about this, I have arrived on the other side of this a better man, a better father, a better partner and a better public servant,” Buckner said. “There are many things that have changed since these incidents occurred.”
Buckner joins Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) and businessman Willie Wilson in announcing their bids for the mayor’s office in 2023. Lightfoot’s re-election campaign is set to officially be announced June 7, according to Tribune reporter Gregory Pratt.
A host of other potential candidates have been floated, including Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), state Rep. La Shawn Ford, former CPS CEO Paul Vallas, Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Stacy Davis Gates, former Chicago Building Commissioner Judy Frydland, Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara and Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, according to the Tribune.
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