Council members Justus, Lucas win Kansas City mayoral primary, will face off in June
Councilwoman Jolie Justus and Councilman Quinton Lucas emerged victorious in Tuesday night’s Kansas City mayoral primary, prevailing over nine competitors for the chance to face off in the June general election.
Unofficial results showed Justus, 4th District, captured nearly a quarter of the vote with Lucas, 3rd District at-large, about four points behind her. Councilwoman Alissia Canady, 5th District, and construction attorney Steve Miller, trailed Lucas.
Justus, 48, a two-term state senator before her election to the council in 2015, was widely expected to make it through the nonpartisan primary. She was the leading fundraiser in the contest and won the endorsement of incumbent Sly James, who is term limited after eight years in office.
All night, results showed her with a clear advantage north and south of the Missouri River. As the numbers trickled in, she entered the Tower Tavern, the Midtown bar and frequent site of her weekly constituent “office hours,” to raucous cheers of “Jolie! Jolie! Jolie!”
Less clear was who would join her in the general election.
Lucas, 34, an attorney and lecturer and the University of Kansas School of Law, came to the contest with a compelling personal story.
He grew up on the city’s east side with two sisters, all of whom were raised by his single mom. At times, their family was homeless. He secured scholarships to attend the Barstow School, Washington University in St. Louis and the Cornell Law School.
“This is amazing,” Lucas said, to a raucous crowd chanting his name. “And I wouldn’t be here today, by the way, without my mama!”
The crowd roared as he hugged his mother, Quincy Bennett.
The open mayoral seat set off a virtual stampede of candidates, eleven in all, including four other members of the City Council.
Five non-incumbents mounted campaigns. Only Miller and Crossroads businessman Phil Glynn were serious challenges to the council candidates.
For months on the campaign trail, Justus has said Kansas city is “on a roll,” but its economic success is not universal. On a walk from the southernmost boundary of Kansas City, near 163rd Street and Prospect Avenue to the city’s northern stretches of 144th and Interurban Road, Justus said she saw near universal trash dumping, crumbling sidewalks and roads that needed attention.
“We went through a lot of deserts: we went through transit deserts, we went through food deserts, we went through quality pre-K deserts,” said Justus, the only mayoral candidate who supported James’ proposal to fund a pre-K expansion through a sales tax increase, which failed. “We have a lot of work to do before we have a city that sees that same level of success.”
Justus thanked her parents, volunteers and donors while imploring them to redouble their efforts starting on Wednesday and continuing over the next 77 days until the general election.
“Tonight, we celebrate,” Justus said.
Lucas said he was outspent by big margins and alluded to challenges early in the campaign, like a DUI arrest while parked in Lawrence. But ultimately he credited “the best ground game of any campaign in Kansas City” for helping him connect with voters.
“I think they saw the substance this campaign had,” Lucas said. “I think they saw my life story. I’ve lived a struggle. Still do some days. And I still know what it’s like to be poor. I know what it’s like to be homeless but to also be able to succeed in our city and I look forward to us pushing that conversation, that message, over the next several months.”
Bennett said she was proud of how far her son had risen, but not surprised. Lucas, she said, was the kid who read newspapers and studied history and politics, even at 10 years old. He was the one who, when he was only 12, convinced her she should vote for the first time.
“He’s comfortable with anyone,” Bennett said. “He seems to care about everyone. You know, and he’s smart. He’s got bright ideas.”
As a senator, Justus championed criminal justice reform and the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act, which would ban bias based on sexual orientation and gender in employment, housing and public accommodations. MONA, as it’s known, has not yet passed.
Justus was the first openly gay member of the Missouri Senate. If elected, she would be Kansas City’s first openly gay mayor.
Justus also directs pro bono legal services for Shook, Hardy and Bacon. She has drawn heavily on that experience to inform positions on helping families in poverty find stable housing and boosting transit options to help get Kansas Citians to jobs.
Since joining the City Council in 2015, Justus has been a close ally of James, who appointed her chair of the Airport Committee. She led the council’s work to approve a deal for a new $1.5 billion single terminal at Kansas City International Airport.
At a groundbreaking celebration for that project last month, James joked that Justus didn’t speak to him “for about three weeks” after he asked her to chair that committee.
Justus led that committee through winding and sometimes fraught negotiations with the airlines that serve KCI and developer Edgemoor Infrastructure & Real Estate.
Lucas chairs the Housing Committee and has made issues that affect the city’s urban core, including affordable housing, a major part of his campaign. As a member of the council, he has pushed affordable housing and economic development reform, including a cap on tax incentives the city grants real estate developers.
A chief plank of his mayoral platform was an overhaul of municipal criminal justice, including a sweeping pardon for all stand-alone marijuana offenses.
Last year, Lucas’ housing committee began working on a sweeping plan to create more affordable housing in the city.
Several smaller reforms have made their way to passage, but the city has yet to come up with $75 million for a housing trust fund, the centerpiece of the proposal. Another hot-button ordinance that would require developers who are granted incentives to build affordable housing has apparently stalled.