Meet the Mayoral Candidates
By Brad Lucht/Kathy Feist
Jolie Justus and Quinton Lucas are running for mayor of Kansas City. Both have different backgrounds, different experiences. The Telegraph sat down with each candidate and asked the following questions. Here are their answers, edited slightly for clarity.
But first, meet the candidates.
Jolie Justus, 48 – Jolie Justus was born in Kansas City and raised in Branson, MO, where she graduated from high school. She earned a degree in communications from Missouri State University in Springfield and a law degree from UMKC. She is the Director of Pro Bono Services for Shook, Hardy, & Bacon. Justus was elected to the Missouri State Senate in 2006. In 2015, she ran for Kansas City Council’s 4th District. She serves on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and has played a major role in expanding the streetcar, and spearheading the KCI single-terminal project. Justus was the first openly gay member of the Missouri State Senate.
Quinton Lucas, 35 – Quinton Lucas was raised in Kansas City by a single mother. He received a scholarship to study at Barstow where he graduated. He attended college at Washington University and received his law degree from Cornell University. Lucas is a private attorney who teaches at the University of Kansas School of Law. Lucas serves on the Housing Committee, where he has established a record of advocating for increased access to affordable housing. Additionally, Lucas co-sponsored an ordinance that would rename the Paseo to reflect the name of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Lucas also led the opposition to the pedestrian ordinance proposed last August which would bar individuals from panhandling on roadsides near intersections.
What transformative event in your life occurred that brought you to this point?
It was 2006, and I had been at that point representing kids and families in the foster care system and kids at the juvenile detention center in the juvenile justice system. Most of the time I was representing teenagers. I remember I was representing a young woman who had been removed from her home because of a dangerous situation. She had been put into a foster care situation, and the only thing she had in her life that was stable was her school. But she had to move to a different school district because of the foster care system. It had been six weeks since she had been removed, but she was still not enrolled in her new school, because the two school districts would not share records with each other. I remember standing there in the courtroom and the young woman I was representing was crying, the judge was yelling, the guardian was yelling, we were all yelling. I thought, there’s got to be a better way to do this. That was that moment where I thought, ‘You know what? I don’t want to just keep cleaning up messes in a courtroom. I want to do something on the front end that makes life better for all of my clients.’ Very shortly after that I was able to run for state senator and won that race, and spent eight years down in Jefferson City. I passed legislation that says school districts have 24 hours to share records with each other. The better part was, we came back later and said kids can actually stay in their own schools. That stability of not moving around makes all the difference. That was the big thing for me, that was sort of my ah-ha moment, me wanting to move from doing my public service in the private sector and moving it over to the public sector. When I got done in Jefferson City, after eight years, I just wanted to come back and take all these issues of social, and racial, and economic justice that I had been working on in Jefferson City and work on it at the local level. That’s why I decided to run for council, and then mayor.
I think it was when I was 24 years old. I was in my final years of law school. I worked on a death penalty case and the gentleman ended up executed. I thought there were some pretty good defenses we had. Background on the case, 1991, double homicide. The defendant had shot his drug dealer, which usually doesn’t get you death. The drug dealer’s girlfriend was also in the car; she died. The prosecutor in Spalding County, Georgia, filed six charges for death. The defendant had a four-day trial, found guilty, and then a one-day sentencing phase. Then to kind of let you know how things were in Georgia, right at the end, “I hereby sentence you to death by electric chair.”
A few more issues though with the case. The defense lawyer had represented about a thousand felony defendants that year. He got extra money to do death penalty cases. The other thing was, the black defendant [was represented by a] white lawyer who trafficked pretty heavily in racial slurs. We thought we had some good defenses on a legal claim known as “ineffective assistance of counsel.” It went up before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. My task was building an argument before the Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole. We did good work, and then we lost. And as you know, when you lose, you really lose.
And two interesting things involving famous people. The Supreme Court Justice in that area who receives the emergency appeals is none other than Clarence Thomas. And he declined our appeal. The same night the client was executed, Senator Obama won the Indiana primary. I had all these friends excited about things.
So much of my life has combined the two, politics and law, and got to me to this weird law professor/city councilman/mayor candidate who would just love to write tons of ordinances. So that’s how I get myself into trouble sometimes.
Why are you running for mayor?
We talk a lot about not having a strong mayor form of government. But I think what we have seen is that the mayor’s ability to set an agenda is amazing. I think we have seen Sly set an agenda that was airport, streetcar, and get the infrastructure bond passed, all of which have their merits. I want my agenda to be the fact that, to the extent that we talk about momentum, the momentum needs to be shared in different parts of the city. It can’t just be narrow. It can’t just be fancy lofts or downtown spaces. It’s my view that you can actually walk and chew gum in cities. What I mean by that is, you can continue to grow, continue to attract people to Kansas City, but you can also have your picking up trash, addressing crime, taking the city out of the Top 10 Most Dangerous Cities list. And really fundamentally making it a place where there is a high quality of life.
I’ve seen a lot of controversies in my time on the council. And the mayor has appointed me to every committee, it feels like. My view is that it’s important to use our minds, it’s important to come to good compromises.
I’m still to this day very proud of my tax incentive 75% ordinance, which I thought was an outstanding compromise. When you look at the extreme 100% abatements a lot of people have trouble with, and then the petitioners “50% let’s cut everything in half and see what happens”; I thought this was a good and helpful compromise.
It’s interesting, because people try to pigeon hole you. Are you against them or not? Are you with this side or the other side?
I’m not necessarily in the middle of the road all of the time, but I think really finding compromise is what’s missing in our country, and often what’s missing at city hall. There is a way to do them both.
Why are you running for mayor?
Justus: I love taking problems they say are not solvable and coming up with solutions, following through and getting them done.
That’s what I did when I was in Jefferson City. We had this disjointed, not working, criminal code that no one had attacked since the late 1970s. They came and said, “Will you do this?”. I thought, OK, you’re going to ask me to take 133 state reps and 34 state senators, and convince them? Only a handful of us were even lawyers. But we did it. You meet people where they are, find out what’s motivating them, then work with them to get the right answer.
Lucas: I want my agenda to be the fact that, to the extent that we talk about momentum, the momentum needs to be shared in different parts of the city. It can’t just be fancy lofts or downtown spaces. You can continue to grow, continue to attract people to Kansas City, but you can also have your picking up trash, addressing crime, taking the city out of the Top 10 Most Dangerous Cities list.
I’m still to this day very proud of my tax incentive 75% ordinance, which I thought was an outstanding compromise [between] the extreme 100% abatements and the petitioners’ “50% let’s cut everything in half and see what happens”. I thought this was a good and helpful compromise.
What do you see as the main difference between you and your opponent?
Justus: I think it’s probably twofold. The first one is, that my opponent is campaigning on, “We need change.” I am campaigning on we need a balanced approach of making sure we keep up our momentum as a city, but also make sure we are addressing those systemic issues that impact the life of every neighborhood in the city. I think my vision is a more balanced vision.
The second piece really has to do more with my approach to leadership. Everyone I have talked to on this campaign, say they want an elected official that shows up, tells the truth and follows through. That is something that people have come to expect from me for the last 13 years. One of the things I have seen from my opponent is that he’ll say he’ll tackle something, but then he doesn’t follow through on it or he votes a different way. I think my consistency and my approach to leadership has been different than his, and that’s something that sets us apart.
Lucas: I think the view on momentum is different. I think she has a different view than I have on all things relating to incentives. I think school districts need to play a role in these conversations.
I ‘ve usually played a leadership role, for better or worse. A lot of people are upset with me about Paseo. But it’s my view that if you take a position, the public deserves [to know] why you’re taking it and then they can disagree.
I think in some ways that is a clear leadership difference. I have not taken anybody else’s lead. I have tried to be independent and thoughtful in all these things.
One other thing is, I got criticized the other day at an event with a bunch of wealthy guys, who asked, “Aren’t you the candidate for poor people?” I said, “Yes, I have no problem with that.” If you’re the type of person who cares about a fair shake for everyone in Kansas City, I’m you’re guy.
What do you hope to achieve in office? What will be your top priority?
Justus: My top priority is addressing our homicide rate in Kansas City. Violent crime is starting to decrease, except for the homicide rate. My opinion is, if we start to see that homicide rate drop, it means we’re hitting all the other things we need to be hitting, like housing, education, transportation, income equity.
What I hope to achieve in office is improving the quality of life in every neighborhood. If we start creating ambassador programs, where neighbors meet neighbors and go into each other’s neighborhoods, then we start to see that we have a lot of similar problems. Now, there is no doubt that there are certain neighborhoods that need care immediately.
I am very passionate about mobility and transportation equity, making sure everyone can get around our city, no matter how they move. Those are my priorities. It’s a lot of work!
Lucas: Crime. It’s crime. I think it’s a travesty. I’m a young man, but I remember 1992 or 1993, watching the news [and hearing]“Kansas City is about to break a murder record, 153 homicides.” I remember my disappointment in 2017, when we got up to 148, [realizing] we still have those same levels of violence.
One of my clearest views is, “Read my lips, no new task forces.” Let’s make a decision, let’s appropriate the funding, let’s see how it goes.
How would the city be different if you’re successful?
Justus: People are going to see a different level of customer service from the city. My platform is proposing a few things. One is to add a deputy mayor of neighborhoods. This person would not be elected. This person would report directly to the city manager and the mayor. What I would see is neighborhoods have a bigger voice.
You’re going to see a better connected city. Because we’re going to continue to make sure that we’re working with the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority and focusing on the sidewalks and the streets and making sure we have people moving around the city, getting to jobs and work. Because of those things, my hope would be then we would also have a safer city, because we are working on the issues that are dividing us.
Lucas: At the end of four or eight years it will be a safer city. We’ll transition from what I call economic development to neighborhood development.
And we talk about public transportation. I dislike the fact that by far that I have had more questionnaires ask me about the streetcar than they have about the bus. Sometimes I want to say, I don’t care. I’ll tell you why. What I care about is how somebody living on Blue Ridge gets downtown, particularly if they have a job that’s paying them $11/hour, like my sister.
Tell me what you know about South Kansas City. What do you feel the opportunities or issues are for this area?
Justus: In south Kansas City we’ve seen some examples where focused economic development has made a difference. The Red Bridge Shopping Center is like this crown jewel. Obviously what we have done in Martin City is incredibly exciting.
At my law firm, where I am director of pro-bono services, we have adopted the
Ruskin Heights neighborhood. We are in court every week doing landlord-tenant work, suing under the Abandoned Property Act to get properties back on the tax rolls, doing beneficiary deed work so that seniors who are in their homes can, without probate, pass their home to their family members, so you don’t have even more vacant or abandoned properties. I have seen a very different side of south Kansas City than some of the success that we have seen.
My hope for south Kansas City [would be] that we use very targeted economic development, and very targeted public/private projects like the Adopt-a-Neighborhood program to stabilize housing, to get vacant and abandoned properties back on the tax rolls, get people living in those homes, then make sure we retain families because there are transportation options and grocery stores and child care and all the things you need to live in south Kansas City.
Lucas: The first one is the housing stock; it remains strong. I think we clearly don’t have the same abandonment rate, vacancy rate, that we see in my home district, the 3rd. The question is, how to make sure our neighborhoods stay stable? As folks age, how can we make sure they keep up their houses, minor AND major home repair?
I also see as an opportunity that you have pretty good demographics in South Kansas City. You still have neighborhoods that are full compared to other parts of the city. I think we’ve invested in infrastructure. You’ve got roads, you’ve got sewers, you’ve got everything laid out.
The challenges in South Kansas City are not unlike the challenges in other parts of the city. How do you create walkability for people of all ages, particularly with a lot of post WWII-style subdivisions? How do we address issues of crime? And address nuisance problems, trash, code enforcement. South Kansas City [answers] how is Kansas City working? If we’re doing it right [in south KC], then that’s how we can do it right elsewhere.
I moved nine times growing up, ranging from 41st & Indiana, Parade Park, 82nd & Troost, 99th & Holmes, 66th & Askew, 52nd & Indiana, 54th and Bell Fountain. Through all those moves, all that whole time, I went to Barstow. So my time in South Kansas City at Barstow ended up being my most consistent time anywhere, more than any neighborhood I grew up knowing.
Justus: When you get up in the morning and you walk out of your house, the first thing you see is what’s going to stick with you for the rest of the day. So if its speeding cars, trash, broken sidewalks, those are the things that really bother you. City government is THE place to go to address those issues. But even though that’s the case, we think that 23% or less of Kansas City’s registered voters are actually going to vote on June 18. They’ve given up, because they don’t feel like they’re being heard. They’ve given up, because they’ve seen the rhetoric on the national and state level. I would encourage folks to go and make your voice heard. These elections are the most important things in most people’s lives.
When you go to bed at night, do you feel safe? Are you hearing gunshots? Is it resulting in homicides? Those are the things that we really need to be focusing on on a local level. We need to make sure we have a mayor who can work with city council members to accomplish in improvement in all of these areas.
What I’m bringing to this race that’s a little bit different from my opponent, is that over the last 13 years, I spent eight years in Jefferson City. I had to work across party lines come up with real solutions. I was able to do that and get it done. On the city council I worked with fellow city council members; I passed a fantastic bill that allowed domestic violence survivors to be able to break their lease. I worked with the mayor to tackle really tough issues, whether it was funding for infrastructure, or, frankly, the issue of the new single-terminal airport at KCI. You have to have a mayor who can work with the city council to do all those things; I’ve got the track record to do that.
I really want to encourage people to know that this election is important, and that they should really make sure that they are choosing an elected official who has the track record of following through and getting things done.
Lucas: I think it is fair to say the last four or eight years have been a lot about downtown, the Crossroads, the airport, and not enough about the rest of us. And the rest of us are five other city council districts. It’s time we spend more time thinking about impactful policies that affect the entire city. My view is, if we can figure out how to spur redevelopment at the Longview and Blue Ridge shopping center, then all of a sudden that’s also your answer for Vivion Road. That’s your answer for Sterling. That’s your answer around the city. And that’s the mayor I want to be.