State Rep. Kam Buckner, D-Chicago, is running for mayor of the Windy City.
The sophomore representative is the third challenger to Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who has yet to formally announce she is running, but has made it clear she intends to seek reelection in comments and through fundraising. Buckner joins Ald. Raymond Lopez, 15th Ward, and businessman Willie Wilson. The election is Feb. 28, 2023.
“If Chicago was a publicly-traded company, I would double down on it,” he told WBEZ in an interview ahead of his formal announcement Thursday. “This is a great town and it’s going to grow and we’re going to get better.”
Buckner currently represents the sprawling 26th district that snakes from the Gold Coast along the south lakefront through Bronzeville and South Shore. He told the Chicago Sun-Times’s Fran Spielman in March that his district is one of the most diverse in the state and mirrors Chicago’s demographics.
He framed himself as a “uniter” able to broker compromise and argued that has been one of Lightfoot’s weaknesses.
“We’re spending more time fighting with each other than we are fighting for the city,” Buckner said. “I really think that the city needs a uniter, a leader who can bring us together.”
Lightfoot’s campaign shot back, painting Buckner as an ally of former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, who is under federal indictment.
“Being mayor of Chicago requires the sort of toughness that Kam Buckner hasn’t shown in his public life,” said Christina Freundlich, Lightfoot campaign spokesperson. “When others stood up to Madigan and told him it was time to go, Buckner voted to keep him in power. You can’t take on the machine when you’re part of it.”
Buckner was appointed to his house seat in 2019, replacing former Illinois State Rep. Christian Mitchell. His campaign fund — Friends of Kam Buckner — had nearly $175,000 at the end of March, according to state election data.
The son of a teacher and law enforcement officer, Buckner currently serves as the chair of the Illinois House Black Caucus. He previously served as Executive Director of World Sport Chicago, a nonprofit created by former Mayor Richard M. Daley in the wake of Chicago’s failed bid for the 2016 Olympic Games.
In announcing his candidacy, Buckner previewed his “four star plan to bring Chicago back” — a nod to the city’s iconic flag. He said he plans to put forward detailed plans to improve public safety, build the “most effective” education system, create equitable economic development and deal with the city’s legacy debt.
Buckner co-sponsored legislation that will create an elected school board in Chicago by 2025. Though Lightfoot initially supported the concept of an elected board, she lobbied against the legislation that Gov. JB Pritzker ultimately signed.
He also was the chief co-sponsor on a criminal justice reform package that eliminated cash bail. Republicans are targeting that legislation for repeal and it’s becoming a key talking point in the gubernatorial primary.
A former football player at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Buckner has also supported bills that would allow college athletes to earn money through endorsements.
Recently, Buckner pled guilty to driving under the influence in Springfield in 2019. He told the Chicago Tribune the incident was a learning experience.
Becky Vevea covers Chicago politics and government for WBEZ. Follow her @beckyvevea. Dave McKinney contributed to this report.