Buckner says Mayor Lightfoot’s personality gets in the way of solving problems

State Rep. Kam Buckner said he will decide after the spring legislative session whether to challenge Lori Lightfoot in the race for Chicago mayor.

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State Rep. Kam Buckner speaks at the Chicago Live Again press conference at Navy Pier, Tuesday morning, Sept. 14, 2021.

State Rep. Kam Buckner

Mark Capapas/Sun-Times file

Mayor Lori Lightfoot “has a personality that a lot of folks don’t like” and it’s getting in the way of solving Chicago’s intransigent problems of violent crime and public education, the chairman of the Illinois Black Caucus told the Chicago Sun-Times.

State Rep. Kam Buckner, D-Chicago, said he will decide soon after the scheduled April 8 close of the spring legislative session whether to challenge Lightfoot in the race for Chicago mayor now less than one year away.

But he’s already sounding like a candidate by talking about the difficulty Lightfoot has in getting along, even with her closest allies, and about the need to “press the reset button” between the Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union.

“We are teetering perpetually on the brink of strike every few months, and we are doing our young people a disservice,” Buckner said.

“During the pandemic, we lost 25,000 students. … Unless you’re one of those 10 to 12% of CPS eighth graders who can test high enough to get into a selective enrollment school, your public school options are few and far between.”

If he decides to enter the race for what he calls the “greatest job in American politics,” Buckner said he would be running “against the status quo, complacency and recalcitrance.”

“You run to a fire because you have a hose. You have a water source. ... That’s the reason I’m thinking about this,” he said.

“The case to be made for me ... would be some very clear and actionable plans about how we move the city forward ... from a public safety standpoint. How do we create public safety where everybody in each of our 77 communities feels safe because, right now, people don’t.”

Asked why Lightfoot deserves to be a one-termer, Buckner homed in on the mayor’s inability to play well with others. He said it hamstrings her ability to be a “triangulating force” who brings disparate interests together to solve problems.

“There’s no secret that the mayor has a personality that a lot of folks don’t like. … We have spent way too much time bogged down in the politics of personality instead of the politics of getting stuff done,” he said.

“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. 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.”

With a strained relationship with Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Senate President Don Harmon, Lightfoot has had a tough time getting things done in Springfield.

She finally got the Chicago casino that eluded her predecessors for decades even though she had to go back and fix a tax structure so onerous it scared developers away.

But the 21-member elected school board Lightfoot tried desperately to stop because she considered it “unwieldy” was passed over her strenuous objections.

The same goes for a bill boosting pensions for thousands of Chicago firefighters in a way the mayor claims will saddle already beleaguered Chicago taxpayers with $823 million in added costs by 2055.

Asked to explain the mayor’s lack of clout in Springfield, Buckner cited a failure to communicate.

“As chair of the Black Caucus — as a member whose entire district is within the city of Chicago — I don’t have a clear understanding of what the city’s Springfield plan is,” Buckner said.

“I’ve heard recently there is a public safety plan the city is gonna bring the General Assembly. We’ve got three-and-a-half more weeks of session. I have not seen it. I have not heard about any specifics. … If there is no plan or if the plan isn’t shared with the folks who vote on it, then there will be no movement on pensions or anything else the city needs.”

As a driving force behind the sweeping criminal justice reform bill, Buckner is playing defense against Republican leaders who want to cancel the planned elimination of cash bail, pointing to violent crimes committed by those on electronic monitoring.

“That’s like blaming Wednesday night’s dinner for Monday morning’s stomachache,” Buckner said, noting the repeal of cash bail hasn’t taken effect.

As a mayoral candidate, Buckner said he is prepared to answer renewed questions about his 2019 arrest for driving under the influence.

“It was a night that I, frankly, should not have been behind the wheel. I’m grateful and thankful that nothing [happened] and no one got hurt that night. It was a blessing that I’m able to walk away from it and learn from that situation,” he said.

“I don’t run from my problems. I deal with them directly. And I’ll have that direct conversation with the people of Chicago if I decide to move forward in the mayoral race. ... Lapses in judgment are possible for all of us.”

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