The sheer quantity of debates hosted by various Kansas City groups means candidates for mayor are answering dozens of questions about how they would represent various pockets of the city.
But a question proposed by a downtown civic group ahead of its Wednesday forum struck another tone. It stood out to Councilman Quinton Lucas, 3rd District at-large, because it was asked only of him and Councilwoman Alissia Canady, 5th District, both of whom are black.
“How do you plan to meet the needs of other districts in addition to meeting the needs of your base?” asked the KC Downtowners, a civic group devoted to development downtown.
Lucas tweeted about it when he saw the proposed question in his email inbox. It was later asked at the forum.
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“Candidates of color can walk and chew gum,” he said on Twitter. “Just (because) we discuss real inclusion (and) participation doesn’t mean we’re neglecting the important basics of local government. I actually think they’re interconnected.”
In an interview Thursday afternoon, Lucas said he had spoken with the group’s president Tyler Barnes and appreciated his call.
“I think he explained that there was no malice intended in kind of how they chose the order for the questions,” Lucas said. “I had a conversation back, which suggested that, yeah, it seemed different and intriguing in a way that two 3rd and 5th District council folks were alone in that conversation, but that being said, I understand these things happen and I hope we have the opportunity to have further conversation about how we’re good for the entire city.”
In an initial email to The Star, Barnes said he had spoken with Lucas and the question was not asked at the forum.
But Lucas said it “absolutely was,” and Councilman Scott Wagner, 1st District at-large, confirmed hearing it as well.
In a follow-up email, Barnes said he “might have been confused on if the question was asked (or) proposed” and said his previous email could be disregarded. He said he opened the event and then kept time for candidates’ questions “so everything was a bit of a blur during the actual luncheon.”
“I touched base with Councilman Lucas and sorted things out with him so I don’t believe we need an additional comment from the Downtowners,” he said.
Lucas said an audience member at the forum asked the reverse question of white candidates — in essence, what they could do to represent non-white constituents.
“I do continue to think that there is something to be said for the fact that there’s a view that minority candidates can only speak to minority people,” Lucas said, “and I say that as a guy who — I’m proud to be from the east side; I’m proud to be black. But I have spent a lot of my life either if it was in the Ivy League or in law firms...working with white folks, the majority, every day.”
Lucas said he answered the question by saying he has proposed and supported policies that benefit the entire city rather than expressing his opinion about the question itself.
“You are, I think, tasked sometimes, and lots of people from non-traditional power groups deal with this, which is — do I want to rock the boat or do I want to just try to keep it moving and seem like the agreeable one that everyone can get on with,” he said.
Lucas added that he had likely picked the “path of least resistance” by not challenging the question at the forum and wasn’t sure that was the right decision.
Lucas was elected to the City Council for an at-large seat, so although he calls the 3rd District home, he was elected by voters across the city and represents them in addition to his home district.
Canady did not respond to a request for comment.