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Lucas condemns dark, grainy photo in campaign mail produced by pro-Justus labor PAC

Candidates Justus, Lucas go toe-to-toe on trustworthiness in debate for KC mayor

Quinton Lucas and Jolie Justus, both sitting members of the City Council, faced off in the fourth mayoral debate hosted by The Star Thursday at Ruskin High School.
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Quinton Lucas and Jolie Justus, both sitting members of the City Council, faced off in the fourth mayoral debate hosted by The Star Thursday at Ruskin High School.

A dark, grainy photo of Kansas City mayoral candidate Quinton Lucas, featured in campaign mail paid for by a political action committee supporting opponent Jolie Justus, was condemned by Lucas on Wednesday, who called it “disappointing” and “incredibly regretful.”

Lucas, an African American city councilman, raised the mailer at a forum sponsored by the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. It was produced by Carpenters Help in the Political Process (CHIPP) a PAC affiliated with the St. Louis-Kansas City Carpenters Regional Council, which has endorsed Justus and spent about $90,000 on her behalf, according to campaign finance filings.

“She and her campaign supporters are sending lots of negative mailers showing me in a darker, grainier picture,” said Lucas, 3rd District at-large, “which I think is disappointing, I think it’s incredibly regretful, I think it’s distasteful and I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if was my campaign.”

Justus didn’t respond during the one-hour debate at Union Station, which was carried live on KCUR. But she denounced the mail immediately afterward and later in a formal statement.

“When it comes to issues of race and equity, let me be clear: I will not abide any words or deeds that undermine our shared values of fairness, dignity, and respect. I found the photo distributed by the CHIPP committee to be racially insensitive and in poor taste.”

In his own statement Wednesday evening, Carpenters Regional Council political director Joe Hudson apologized: “We deeply regret using imagery that some of our fellow Kansas Citians felt was offensive. We apologize for our mistake and lack of awareness in our design choice.”

The council represents more than 20,000 members in Kansas, Missouri and southern Illinois, according to its website.

The controversy is the latest example of the increasingly negative turn Justus and her supporters have taken as the June 18th general election approaches. While Justus says there has been no improper coordination between campaign and CHIPP, the lines of attack are markedly similar, depicting Lucas as untrustworthy.

CHIPP’s mailer calls Justus “A Mayor We Can Trust.” A message on the Justus campaign website says: “Voters in Kansas City need to know that you just can’t trust Quinton Lucas...We can’t take Kansas City’s momentum to the next level if we elect an untrustworthy, ineffective mayor.”

At the opening of Wednesday forum, moderator Steve Kraske pushed Justus to explain.

“This city hasn’t heard rhetoric like this in a mayor’s race in a long time,” Kraske said. “Untrustworthy is a big word.”

Without specifics, Justus said that in conversations with “business folks, neighborhood leaders, whoever it is, I’m hearing over and over again, stories of someone who has not always been able to shoot straight.”

Lucas expressed disappointment at the attacks, which he called out of character for Justus.

“I’m frankly being called a liar by my opponent. ... I don’t think that’s who she is and that’s not the relationship we’ve had at City Hall,” he said. “That’s not what voters want to talk about.”

Both CHIPP and the Justus campaign site mention Lucas’ 2018 vote against an ethics reform package that six other council members also opposed; Justus voted in favor.

Both sites attack Lucas and 3rd District Councilman Jermaine Reed for accepting $11,000 in corporate contributions to underwrite a district Christmas party in 2017. Donors included companies seeking city business, such as Burns & McDonnell and HNTB.

However, Justus’ recent campaign finance filings show a $500 donation from HNTB, a national design and engineering firm. Justus has also accepted $7,650 from executives at Clarkson Construction, a major city contractor who is helping to build the new single terminal at Kansas City International Airport.

Both sites also note Lucas’ 2017 sponsorship, along with six other council members, of a no-bid ordinance to hire two legal firms: Husch Blackwell and Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr.

Lucas said he and the co-sponsors were looking for timely outside legal advice on the KCI project. Justus and CHIPP seem to suggest that the measure was in part a pay off because Lucas was an intern at Wilmer Hale as a law student in 2008.

The CHIPP site notes Lucas has taken more than $6,500 in donations from Husch Blackwell and Wilmer Hale. Most of that came in 2014, during his campaign for the council seat. Neither Wilmer Hale nor Husch Blackwell contributed to him in 2017. He’s received just $200 from attorneys at Wilmer Hale since co-sponsoring the ordinance.

Since 2017, he has received $1,225 from Husch Blackwell. Justus has received $750.

In its mailer, CHIPP said Lucas “would hurt our local economy by shutting down economic development and driving businesses out of Kansas City.” To support this, the PAC cites a March 2017 article in the Kansas City Business Journal.

The article recounts a heated exchange between Lucas and attorney Brian Noland, a mayoral appointee to the Planned Industrial Expansion Authority, one of the city agencies empowered to offer property tax abatements to developers.

Noland blamed the decreased volume of requests for abatements on the October 2016 passage of a Lucas-sponsored ordinance capping abatements at 75 percent.

“His concerns are not just premature, but also wrong,” Lucas said in the article. “I meet each week with developers and their counsel to discuss new projects in Kansas City. Many of those projects will seek incentives.”

Lucas’ ordinance provides exceptions for so-called “high impact” projects or projects that were in the development pipeline prior to passage.

The Star’s Allison Kite contributed to this story.

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