Council members Justus, Lucas win Kansas City mayoral primary, will face off in June
Quinton Lucas is defending himself against what he calls an “amateurish” attack by supporters of Jolie Justus as the two enter the final stretch of the race for Kansas City mayor.
Lucas and Justus, both members of the City Council, advanced from a field of 11 candidates last month and face each other in a June 18 election to succeed outgoing Mayor Sly James. With less than three weeks to go, a political action committee associated with the St. Louis-Kansas City Carpenters Regional Council, which endorsed Justus, is calling into question Lucas’ trustworthiness.
On a newly formed website, the PAC, Carpenters Help in the Political Process, levels a series of accusations against Lucas, claiming he “will often say one thing but do another.” The PAC has spent more than $90,000 on Justus’ behalf, according to campaign filings.
A page on Justus’ campaign website prominently displays a similar message, saying “voters in Kansas City need to know that you just can’t trust Quinton Lucas.”
In a statement Thursday morning, Lucas’ campaign accused Justus’ staff of using the message as a prompt to outside groups, like the union, that are spending money in the race. The release likened it to Ted Cruz’s 2016 campaign, which uploaded uncut footage from advertising shoots that could then be used by PACs.
Justus’ campaign manager, Jordan Overstreet, said the box message on the website was intended to tell voters what their options are, not to send signals to outside groups. He did not dispute the substance of the PAC’s message, but said there was no coordination, and that the group “probably took their cues from things that Jolie has been saying in interviews, things we’ve been putting out to the press and probably as we’ve been...going out to events.”
The labor site points to Lucas’ vote against an ethics reform bill sponsored last year by Councilman Scott Taylor, and money raised for 3rd District Holiday party in 2017 from “an engineering and design firm which at the time (was) still pushing behind the scenes to win the contract for development of the new KCI single terminal.”
The site does not identify the firm, but gift disclosure reports filed with the city clerk show it is Burns & McDonnell. The company contributed $1,000.
The PAC also cites an ordinance that awarded a no-bid contract to a law firm where Lucas worked as an intern during law school.
It concludes: “We need a mayor we can trust, not more of the same unethical and dishonest behavior from City Councilman Quinton Lucas.”
A page on Justus’ website, found by clicking on the negative message about Lucas, outlines the same charges the union made.
All three claims, Lucas said were “just a bunch of B.S.”
The ethics reform ordinance, which failed on a 7-4 vote in July, would have — in its original form — limited lobbyists’ gifts to $5 and restricted city-funded travel to two trips per four-year council term. A pared-down final version voted on by the council, which emerged from a committee Justus sits on, dropped the travel restriction and $5 gift cap. It required any gift worth $50 or more be reported to the city clerk.
Several members objected to Taylor, one of six council incumbents who ran in the April primary for mayor, introducing the ordinance and then quickly sending out an election mailer that referenced the legislation. At the same time, a statewide campaign dubbed “Clean Missouri” was seeking voter approval for ethics and redistricting reforms.
Justus voted for the council ethics measure.
In an interview, Lucas said he voted no “because there was no substantive piece of legislation left.”
“They had undermined the entire spirit of Councilman Taylor’s ethics reform,” Lucas said, adding that the proposal appeared to be “political grandstanding” when it was introduced.
Asked if he would support a full-throated version of the ethics reform, Lucas said “possibly.” He pointed to an ordinance he introduced that limits the city manager’s ability to award smaller contracts without council approval as successful transparency legislation.
As for donations to the 3rd District’s annual holiday gathering at Arrowhead Stadium, Lucas said the money was used only to ensure “that we actually put on a Christmas party for the poorest City Council district in the city.”
The carpenters’ website accused Lucas of a conflict of interest for accepting — along with Councilman Jermaine Reed — $11,000 in corporate gifts, including several thousand from “an engineering and design firm which at the time (was) still pushing behind the scenes to win the contract for development of the new KCI single terminal, as well as several other firms that frequently bid on city business.”
The site does not name the other firms, but gift disclosure records identify them as HNTB and Ch2m Hill, which each donated $1,000.
Lucas said the party has been held since before he joined the City Council in 2015 and was led by his fellow 3rd District council member, Reed. He said the party solicits private donations rather than spending city funds.
“It is the Christmas party that’s attended by hundreds of poor people and others who don’t ever have the chance to actually go to Arrowhead Stadium,” Lucas said, “and it helps to fund meatballs and mac and cheese and an appearance by K.C. Wolf. They clearly know they’re painting the lily. That’s why they give such a B.S. description about the gifts because they know that it’s basically just a lie.”
Responding to the claim, Lucas quipped that his opponents must not have found any taxpayer-funded travel they could use to attack him and noted Justus’ city-funded trip to Hawaii for the American Association of Airport Executives.
“I guess this is the best they got, which is too bad,” Lucas said.
Lucas also pushed back against the site’s final attack, which notes he sponsored a no-bid ordinance to hire two legal firms: Husch Blackwell and Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr. Lucas was an intern at Wilmer Hale as a law student in 2008.
The council introduced and passed the ordinance on the same day in May 2017, approving the contracts totaling $475,000 with Husch Blackwell and Wilmer Hale. Fellow council members Reed, Alissia Canady, Lee Barnes, Teresa Loar, Heather Hall and Katheryn Shields cosponsored it with Lucas.
City Manager Troy Schulte said in an interview that the contracts were a departure from the regular procurement process, conducted by city staff to ensure that the firms selected don’t have a conflict of interest.
“First time I found out about it was when it showed up on the floor,” Schulte said.
The site notes Lucas has taken more than $6,500 in donations from Husch Blackwell and Wilmer Hale, though the bulk came in 2014, during his campaign for the council seat. Neither Wilmer Hale nor Husch Blackwell donated 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.
Lucas noted the legal services ordinance came shortly after city officials, including James and Justus, rolled out a proposed no-bid deal with Burns & McDonnell to build the airport terminal. He said council members felt they needed to move quickly to secure outside legal counsel.
“The problem with going through a normal procurement process...is that the mayor and Councilwoman Justus wanted us to vote on a $1 billion no-bid contract within two weeks,” Lucas said.
He said he and a majority of the council felt that deal was illegal, unethical, ridiculous and imprudent.
He added he spoke with attorneys from law firms in Kansas City and around the country.
Justus’ campaign manager, Jordan Overstreet, saw things differently.
“He’s was the one that was implying that there was some sort of impropriety and in response to that, he stepped forward with an initiative that would line the pockets of some of his former colleagues, so I think once again, he’s trying to avoid responsibility for his own actions,” Overstreet said.
Lucas noted he was an intern in his early 20s and disputed the notion “that these were a bunch of my buddies that I was just able to get work to.”
Lucas and Justus will meet for their next debate at 6:30 p.m. Thursday evening at Ruskin High School, 7000 E. 111 St.
An earlier version of this story did not include information on Justus’ website used to support negative claims about Lucas. It has been updated.