State Rep. Kam Buckner launches run against Mayor Lori Lightfoot

The race for Chicago mayor became slightly more crowded Thursday with state Rep. Kam Buckner, D-Chicago, declaring he will look to unseat Mayor Lori Lightfoot from City Hall’s fifth floor in the upcoming 2023 election.

“I love this city, I am from this city, I decided to remain in this city and raise my family here,” Buckner said ahead of his campaign announcement. “It is very clear that people don’t feel safe, they don’t feel seen and they don’t feel like there is a plan to address those things.”

The chairman of the Illinois Black Caucus said his campaign will focus on instilling trust in city government, and making tangible changes to some of the most pressing issues facing residents — like improving Chicago Public Schools and reducing a surge in violent crime.

“We have gone through the last two or three years with strikes, COVID and all the other things wrapped in that,” Buckner said. “We have put our young people in a real bad position and we are not given them the resources.”

For weeks, Buckner has been critical of Lightfoot’s tenure as mayor but held off on declaring his intentions to run until after the spring session of the Illinois General Assembly, which ended early in April. He is planning to kick off his campaign outside TeaPotBrew Bakery, 1802 S. Wabash Ave., on the Near South Side.

Buckner told the Chicago Sun-Times in March that Lightfoot “has a personality that a lot of folks don’t like” — a personality that created barriers to solving some of the city’s most pressing issues.

“There were folks who weren’t fans of Rahm. There were folks who weren’t fans of Rich Daley. But at the end of the day, it was about getting stuff done,” Buckner said in March. “That has to be the hallmark of how we operate in this city. I don’t need to agree with you in order to get to a solution.”

On Thursday, Buckner said the built-up friction in City Hall doesn’t all “fall on” the mayor’s doorstep, but he insisted Lightfoot does have on obligation to try to bring everyone together to make progress on important issues.

Buckner is a South Side native. His legislative district sits within the city limits, and takes in parts of the Gold Coast, Bronzeville, Grand Boulevard, Hyde Park, Kenwood, Oakland, South Loop, South Shore, Streeterville and Woodlawn.

A football player at Morgan Park High School, he was once one of Chicago’s top defensive end prospects, and was recruited to play at the University of Illinois in 2003. After graduation, he become an aid to U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and returned to Chicago, where he attended law school at DePaul University.

Since being elected to the legislature in 2019, Buckner was one of the driving forces behind a sweeping criminal justice reform bill that eliminates cash bail. He also pushed for an elected CPS board.

Buckner has previously called for a need to “press the reset button” between Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union in order to find some common ground. The relationship between the union and the school district, historically shaky, has become even more strained during the pandemic, over issues including how and when teachers return to the classroom.

Buckner has been a close ally of the CTU and is the son and brother of CTU members.

More recently, Buckner criticized Lightfoot for leaving a Board of Education seat empty for nine months, saying at the time that “it’s hard for me to understand why it would be so hard to fill a role like that with a person who is committed to representing young people.”

Buckner also suggested a need to restore a good working relationship between the mayor’s office and Gov. J.B. Pritzker — which at times has been testy — and Senate President Don Harmon.

He has long been an outspoken advocate for criminal justice reform and recently introduced a bill that would make the transfer, purchase, manufacturing, importation or possession of a ghost gun illegal. The bill would essentially require all firearms, including those 3D printed, to have a serial number.

The city, he said, is faced with a real crime problem.

People don’t feel safe and “they are nervous to stop for gas or taking their dog for a walk,” he said, though he cautioned that there addressing crime also requires understanding the “context” of conditions that lead to crime in some communities.

Buckner’s past personal decisions also may be brought up by opponents, such as his 2019 arrest for driving under the influence which he said he would have a “direct conversation with the people of Chicago” about.

Last month, Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) announced he would relinquish his City Council seat to challenge Lightfoot. Lopez has taken a tough-on-crime approach in order to “save Chicago” from rampant violence and pledged to fire CPD Supt. David Brown immediately.

“Our residents do not feel safe. People who work here don’t feel safe. Visitors and tourism is on the decline because they see the perception of Chicago being the Wild West of the Midwest,” Lopez said last month as he launched his campaign.

Millionaire businessman Willie Wilson also is running, hoping to leverage his goodwill through his recent gas giveaway events and continued philanthropic efforts in Chicago.

If elected, Wilson has said, he would donate the mayor’s $216,210 annual salary to churches and nonprofits. He doesn’t need the money, he said; he spends more a weeklong cruise with his wife.

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