Government & Politics

Jolie Justus jumps back in the crowded Kansas City mayor’s race

Jolie Justus is back in the mayor’s race.

The first-term Kansas City Council member from the 4th District and former Missouri state senator announced that she’s once again running for mayor of Kansas City in 2019.

Justus dropped her long-planned bid to succeed Kansas City Mayor Sly James earlier this year when former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander entered the race. She said at the time that she would support Kander’s candidacy while looking to retain her 4th District seat for another term.

But little more than a week after Kander unexpectedly abandoned his run for mayor, citing an ongoing struggle with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, Justus rejoins a crowded mayoral contest.

“I feel like everything I was running for in the first place — my experience, bringing people together — now is the right time,” Justus told The Star.

Justus figures to be among the top contenders to advance out of the April 2019 primary, in which the field of nine candidates will be trimmed to two for the general election. More candidates may enter the race, too. Cindy Circo, a former two-term Kansas City Council member from 2007 to 2015, told The Star earlier this week that she is considering a run for mayor.

Other candidates for mayor are Quinton Lucas, Scott Wagner, Scott Taylor, Jermaine Reed, Phil Glynn, Alissia Canady, Steve Miller and Rita Berry.

Justus, a progressive Democrat during her time in the Missouri Senate, has had a busy first term on the Kansas City Council. She is chair of the Airport Committee and was, along with mayoral hopeful Jermaine Reed, on the selection committee that chose Edgemoor Infrastructure & Real Estate as the developer of the new single terminal at Kansas City International Airport.

Voters approved the new airport terminal last November, despite a messy selection process that started with a proposed no-bid contract to Burns & McDonnell. City leaders had previously had a difficult time making the case for a new terminal, but it was overwhelmingly approved.

“That’s a huge accomplishment,” Justus said. “I want to make sure I’m around to make sure the city does it right.”

Justus has also been a supporter of improving Kansas City’s transit, having backed initiatives like transit-oriented development policy and the streetcar extension to the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Justus lives in the Longfellow neighborhood near Union Hill and Hospital Hill, which she describes as one of the most “transit rich” areas of town, given its proximity to two MAX bus lines and the streetcar.

“I think every Kansas Citian should have those options,” Justus said.

She added that crime and public safety were among the chief concerns voiced by residents as she campaigned.

“One of the biggest things people say is they want the city’s momentum to keep moving forward,” Justus said.

Kander said he supported Justus’ run for mayor.

“After I got out of the race, I encouraged Jolie to run because I know with 100 percent certainty that she’s the best person to lead our city into the future and make sure we continue our progress,” Kander said in a statement.

Professionally, Justus is a director of pro bono services for the law firm Shook, Hardy & Bacon.

Justus’ decision to jump back into the mayor’s race caused other political dominoes to tip further down the 2019 ballot.

Geoff Jolley, a Kansas City fire fighter, has been running for the 4th District seat.

Eric Bunch, policy director and co-founder of the pedestrian and transit advocacy group BikeWalkKC, declared that he too will now run for that seat. Bunch had previously entered to run in the 4th District at-large race against incumbent Katheryn Shields and Austin Strassle.

Bunch said he’s making the switch to continue the agenda that Justus had pursued on the council.

“I think she’s been a champion for smart infrastructure investments, something I very much continue to plan to advocate for,” Bunch told The Star. “She’s been an advocate for smart redevelopment of our urban core.”

Jared Campbell and Matt Staub had previously established campaign committees to run for the 4th District seat, but backed out when Justus dropped out of the mayor’s race and sought to keep her council seat.

Campbell and Staub were not available to discuss their plans Thursday.

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