Safety, justice, education highlight state Rep. Kam Buckner’s campaign for mayor

Buckner, chairman of the Black Caucus in the Illinois House of Representatives, said his campaign is focused on instilling trust in city government, improving Chicago Public Schools and reducing violent crime.

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The son of an educator and a Cook County law enforcement officer, state Rep. Kam Buckner said he was raised on “the values of safety, justice and education.”

Not surprisingly, those themes are now the crux of his campaign for mayor.

“They taught me that the highest calling is serving others, keeping your community safe, enhancing their knowledge while expanding your horizons,” Buckner said of his parents when he announced his run last year. “We need a mayor who can bring people together to get things done for Chicago.”

The chairman of the Black Caucus in the Illinois House of Representatives said his campaign is focused on instilling trust in city government, improving Chicago Public Schools and reducing 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 giving them the resources.”

Illinois state Rep. Kam Buckner was elected to the General Assembly in 2019.

Illinois state Rep. Kam Buckner was elected to the General Assembly in 2019.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Buckner is a South Side native. His 26th Legislative District sits within the city limits and takes in parts of the Gold Coast, Streeterville, Bronzeville, Grand Boulevard, Hyde Park, Kenwood, Oakland, South Loop, South Shore 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 became an aide to U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and returned to Chicago, where he earned his law degree from DePaul University.

Elected to the General Assembly in 2019, Buckner was one of the driving forces behind a sweeping criminal justice reform bill that eliminated cash bail.

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

Buckner said his balanced approach to public safety involves “vastly increasing” the city’s gun violence prevention budget, investing in anti-violence organizations, helping push through gun reform and “a robust mental health responder model.”

He pushed for an elected CPS board while a lawmaker and has said there is a need to “press the reset button” between CPS and the Chicago Teachers Union, which has clashed with Mayor Lori Lightfoot. A close ally of the union, he is the son and brother of CTU members. He said at his campaign rally that he would personally negotiate the next CTU contract and would not send a “proxy” in his place.

Last year, 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 public transit plan would improve bus services and frequency throughout the city by establishing dedicated bus lanes in areas with more riders. He also said there is a need for an integrated fare system that would allow riders to easily transfer between the CTA, PACE and Metra.

Illinois state Rep. Kam Buckner launched his mayoral campaign at TeaPotBrew Bakery, 1802 S. Wabash Ave., on Thursday, May 12, 2022.

Illinois state Rep. Kam Buckner launches his mayoral campaign at TeaPotBrew Bakery in May 2022.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

He also would “restore CTA rides as part of police beats” and dramatically upgrade the CTA’s vast network of 32,000 security cameras that he claims are more like expensive window dressing than deterrents to crime. He promised to make the CTA “100% accessible.”

Buckner’s past personal decisions 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.

Overall, Buckner has continued to push the message he delivered at the launch of his campaign.

“I love this city. I am from this city. I decided to remain in this city and raise my family here,” he said then. “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.”

Manny Ramos is a former Sun-Times reporter.

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