State Rep. Kambium “Kam” Buckner (D-26th) is running for mayor to unseat Mayor Lori Lightfoot from City Hall in 2023.
"I'm a son of Chicago. I was born and raised in the city. The city is extremely important to me. It's given me everything that I have, and I understand the difficulties that I face," he said in an interview. "But I'm also raising my son in Chicago, and I understand the opportunities that we have to make Chicago the city that she deserves to be.
"We have spent so much time recently fighting with each other, and we've not spent enough time fighting for our city, and I think we need visionary, transformative leadership to actually do that work."
The Bronzeville-based state representative said some core issues his campaign will focus on are improving Chicago Public Schools and reducing crime. His legislative district spans the city’s lakefront, including parts of Gold Coast, South Loop, Bronzeville, Hyde Park, Kenwood, Woodlawn and South Shore.
The chairman of the Illinois Black Caucus kicked off his campaign this afternoon at the corner of 18th Street and Wabash Avenue before a crowd of dozens of supporters.
“We cannot wait a day longer for a safe and just Chicago for all of us,” he said, calling for more investment in schools and ways to give the city’s children a path to success. “We need a mayor who can bring people together to get things done for Chicago.”
Buckner was appointed to the Illinois House of Representatives in 2019 to replace Christian Mitchell, who resigned to become deputy governor. Buckner was reelected in 2020 without opposition, and has supported legislation on firearm restrictions, renewable energy development and criminal justice reform.
He is the grandson of a Baptist minister and the son of a sheriff's deputy sergeant and a public school teacher from Mississippi who was the first in her family to go to college. He grew up in Roseland; his first memory, as a three-year-old, was attending Mayor Harold Washington's wake in the Loop.
If elected, Buckner would be the first mayor since Washington to be a Chicago Public Schools graduate. "My matriculation through that district is going to be important to me as we make decisions on bringing the city forward on an educational standpoint," he said.
After graduating from Morgan Park High School, Buckner studied at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he played defensive tackle for the Fighting Illini football team. He later got a degree from the DePaul University College of Law.
Prior to his election to the Illinois House of Representatives, Buckner's professional background was split between sports business and nonprofits. He worked on the Wrigley Field renovations and served as executive director for the youth organization World Sport Chicago (born out of the city’s failed bid for the 2016 Olympics). He was also a member of Sen. Dick Durbin's (D-Ill.) Capitol Hill staff and worked for former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
Buckner said he has the executive experience to run a city of millions of people and a City Council with 50 alderpersons. "It is also evident to me that it requires us to bring folks together and to be able to have conversations," he said. "If you look at the work I've done in Springfield, it has really been highlighted by bringing people together."
In Springfield, Buckner championed legislation allowing Illinois college athletes to be paid for the use of their names and likenesses and another bill this year that would ban "ghost guns," firearms made from kits or 3D-printed without serial numbers. He was also a lead negotiator on Gov. J.B. Pritzker's landmark 2021 energy plan, which will force fossil fuel power plants offline by 2045, and put billions of dollars toward renewable and nuclear energy.
Just before his campaign launch, Buckner said his proudest accomplishment has been the passage of legislation around the Black Caucus' pillars: criminal justice, economic access, education and health care.
As chair of the caucus' House bloc, Buckner has been a vocal defender of the Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today (SAFE-T) Act, which will end cash bail for the vast majority of crimes in Illinois next year and change use-of-force guidelines for law enforcement, create a new police certification system and expand detainee rights.
The third candidate to announce a mayoral bid, Buckner is up against two other South Siders: millionaire businessman and philanthropist Willie Wilson, who also ran in 2019, and Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th).
As campaign season heats up, Buckner’s opponents may bring up past personal mistakes; he has pleaded guilty twice to driving under the influence. The first occurred in 2010 in Urbana, after he graduated from college, and the second as a freshman legislator in 2019, when Springfield police officers found him asleep at the wheel a few blocks from the statehouse, the Tribune reported. He has since paid the fines and completed the community service required for the misdemeanors.
Throughout his career Buckner has been outspoken on issues of policing and public safety. Early in May 2020, he reported on a police officer stopping him and demanding to see proof of purchase and identification after he left a South Loop retailer, saying that the officer said he "looked like he was up to something."
“Which begs the question, what does someone who is up to something look like?” Buckner asked on Twitter. He recalled the talks young Black boys receive "on how to maneuver a society that often looks at you as a threat first" and a mentor who told him as a teenager to "dress like a prospect and not a suspect."
At today’s campaign launch, Buckner continued: “Where you live should not determine if you live,” he said. “Being a Black kid from the South Side, I know what it’s like to lie down on the wet pavement handcuffed because police officers think I fit a description.
"I'm a lifelong South Sider who has decided to remain a South Sider, and it's important to me that I bring all those experiences to bear in City Hall," he said. "I bring all of that with me in this race and, hopefully, a Buckner administration."
If no candidate wins more than 50% of the vote on February 28, the two frontrunners will have a runoff on April 4.