In early 2019 Skyline Village Chicago invited newly minted state representative Kam Buckner to meet his north side constituents at their monthly luncheon. Buckner blew in twenty minutes late, having raced from the state capitol in downstate Springfield. He flashed an enormous smile, introduced himself, then launched into a captivating and detailed description of budget negotiations with legislative leaders. We felt like we were insiders.
He’d been in office for two months.
A political impasse had left Illinois with no state budget for most of the three years leading up to 2019. Many services had been cut, and the stalemate adversely affected Illinois’ economy and credit rating. Reports of the multi-faceted budget process sounded politically intricate. A person next to me at the luncheon whispered, “Isn’t he too new to be negotiating the budget?”
That’s my friend, Kam Buckner.
He’s the thirty-seven year old lawyer, former big ten footballer running for mayor. He worked for Senator Durbin in Washington and Mayor Mitch Landrieu in New Orleans.
The Buckner family tree grew its branches out of Mississippi mud and grafted itself onto Chicago’s big shoulders during the Second Great Migration. The blues, born in Mississippi and raised in Chicago came up from the south with them. Chicago’s Staple Singers and Jennifer Hudson are Buckner cousins. At Kam’s inaugural party in Springfield, he hit the stage to belt out a full-throated “Two Dollar Blues” with the band.
The day I met Kam was also the day the Chicago Bears announced they might move the team to Arlington Park. I asked Buckner if the Bears were fishing for state money to stay in Chicago. “Of course,” he answered. “I’ve already spoken to the governor about legislation to prevent that.”
This is a guy who hits the ground running.
In 2019 I’d been part of a group at my church that studied education equity, which is so complicated we disbanded. The next thing I knew Kam Buckner passed a bill to ensure schools receive funding based on the need of the students, rather than evidence of achievement. That’s equity. He’s been in the trenches on criminal justice reform, known as the SAFTE-T Act and negotiated the celebrated energy bill which legislates zero carbon emission by 2045, a boon for climate change.
At the dedication of adult playground equipment in my neighborhood park, a friend mentioned to Kam that cities in China have similar equipment. “I lived in China for six months and saw it everywhere,” he said. “What? You lived in China?’
Activists for safe streets and public transportation are Buckner’s biggest supporters. He rides the trains. Takes notes. Talks to passengers. Has a plan.
At a Sunday afternoon mayoral forum the candidates were peppered with the usual questions on crime, education, housing. Afterwards, a long line waited for selfies and handshakes with Kam Buckner while the other candidates packed up to leave.
“He’d make a great mayor,” a stranger said, “but I’m not votin’ for him. I’m afraid he’s gonna lose.”
“A cynic is a man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin.” —H.L. Mencken