The June announcement from former Missouri Secretary of State and U.S. Senate candidate, thought to be building his national profile with an eye toward 2020, was a surprise of seismic dimensions.
Overnight, in the estimation of most political professionals, he became the prohibitive favorite to succeed two-term incumbent Mayor Sly James, converting the eight other candidates into contenders for second place in the non-partisan April 2 primary.
The top two vote-getters go on to the June 18 general election. The other candidates are Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner, Councilmen Quinton Lucas, Scott Taylor and Jermaine Reed, Councilwoman Alissia Canady, Crossroads businessman Phil Glynn, construction attorney Stephen Miller, and community activist Rita Berry.
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As the post-Kander portion of the 2019 race begins, the major question involves City Councilwoman Jolie Justus.
The former state senator was considered a top-tier contender — perhaps a frontrunner in her own right — when she entered the race last year. She dropped out when Kander got in, opting instead to seek re-election to her District 4 seat.
It was a recognition that she and Kander shared the same political base: The progressive Democratic corridor that runs roughly from the river through downtown, midtown, the Plaza, Brookside and points south.
Justus said Tuesday that she is receiving “significant requests” from supporters and donors to re-enter the race.
She said she’s seriously considering it and will make a decision soon. While the filing deadline is not until Jan. 9, as a practical matter she would need to move quickly to reclaim financial and organizational support. According to the most recent campaign finance reports, Justus had $94,000 in cash on hand.
“The mayor’s race is up and running,” she said. “I’ll probably make a decision in the next week or so.”
Much of the local political world was reluctant to speak for the record in the wake of Kander’s announcement. But privately, consultants and former office holders said that if Justus got back in, she would reclaim a first-tier position in the field.
Insiders pointed to her record as a proven vote-getter — two state senate victories and election to the council — along with a chance to reclaim Kander voters.
“You’re going to see Jolie Justus get back in the race,” one prominent former Democratic officeholder flatly predicted.
Others suggest that if Justus does re-enter, she will have to contend with a narrative in which she comes across as indecisive, and perhaps even timid: entering the race, backing down from Kander, and getting back in as he exits.
“I would not want a mayor who is that inconsistent,” said attorney and East Side activist Clinton Adams. “We don’t want a mayor who backs down from a challenge.”
Absent the return of Justus, the rough consensus was that Lucas, Taylor, and perhaps Glynn and Miller, stand to benefit from Kander’s departure.
Lucas, the District 3 at-large council member, is one of three African-American candidates and one who may have the most crossover appeal to white voters.
Taylor, the District 6 at-large member, has enjoyed an overwhelming cash advantage ($351,000 in the bank). Miller and Glynn, both first-time candidates, also have followings in the corridor that could expand.
Most insiders said they didn’t expect anyone else to enter the race, although one suggested that Councilwoman Katheryn Shields, who tested the waters early in the campaign, might be tempted to try. Shields, a former Jackson County executive, has strong ties to organized labor.
She did not return phone or text messages Tuesday.