The Buzz

Endorsement: Kansas City Mayor Sly James names his preferred successor

Councilwoman and mayoral front-runner Jolie Justus nabbed a key endorsement Thursday — that of outgoing Mayor Sly James.

Justus, one of 11 candidates running in the April primary for mayor, is a close ally of James, who is term-limited. His endorsement confirms expectations that she would be his preferred successor.

In a video posted Thursday morning, James said he supports Justus because of her effectiveness.

“I’ve seen Jolie in a lot of different circumstances — both at the state level and here at the local level — and one thing that I’ve noticed about Jolie is that she cares deeply about every single person in the city, and she cares deeply about our neighborhoods,” James said.

The comments dovetail with mail pieces Justus’ campaign has produced, saying she would be an “effective, neighborhood mayor.”

James went on to say that’s why he chose her to chair the Airport Committee, which has been working to finalize a deal to build a new single terminal at Kansas City International Airport. He said he needed someone with her skills and who could “bring people together to shepherd in the airport that 76 percent of the people in this city voted for.”

“I have not been disappointed in her results. I have not been disappointed in her methods,” James said.

Justus’ fellow candidates have sought to make an issue of the airport project’s arduous path at candidate forums and debates in recent weeks.

James’ is one of several high-profile endorsements in recent weeks. Freedom Inc., the city’s long-standing black political organization, endorsed Councilman Quinton Lucas, 3rd District at-large, for mayor last month. Forward Kansas City, a Northland group, chose Steve Miller, passing over 1st District At-Large Councilman Scott Wagner, the only mayoral candidate who lives north of the river.

Having the backing of a popular outgoing mayor could boost Justus, who is the largest fundraiser in the race and is widely believed to be the front runner.

But such high-level endorsements don’t guarantee victory. When James won his first term in 2011, his opponent, then-City Councilman Mike Burke, was endorsed by three former mayors: Charles Wheeler, Richard Berkley and Kay Barnes, who envisioned and began the downtown revival James has continued.

Barnes has also endorsed Justus in the 2019 race.

Wrapping up his endorsement, James said Justus cares about the city’s issues and getting things done.

“She is a collaborative person, an effective leader, and a person that you can trust to get the job done for Kansas City.”

Kansas City’s primary election for mayor is April 2. The top two vote-getters will move into a June runoff.

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Allison Kite reports on City Hall and local politics for The Star. She joined the paper in February 2018 and covered Midterm election races on both sides of the state line. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism with minors in economics and public policy from the University of Kansas.