Elections

Justus and Lucas: Final questions and answers as the KC mayor’s race comes to a close

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.

The debates are over, the last campaign dollars are being spent and the candidates for Kansas City mayor, Jolie Justus and Quinton Lucas are making their closing arguments to voters before Tuesday’s general election.

Here’s one more look at where they stand on the key issues.

Crime

What can you do to curb violent crime compared to previous administrations? What specific ideas do you have?

Justus: It means more police officers dedicated to protecting and building trust in neighborhoods. But it also means focusing on innovative and systemic changes that are proven to work.

In my Neighborhoods First Agenda, which readers can find at www.justusforkc.com/neighborhoods, I provide action-oriented details that divide into several categories: Foster A Fairer Criminal Justice System; Address Mental Health Issues; Support Equity through Diversity on the Police Force; Data-Driven Policing; and Pursuing Illegal & Stolen Guns.

We need a greater focus on specialty courts and re-entry services for ex-offenders. We know how to reduce recidivism when we commit the resources to do it.

Just like I did when I drafted historic criminal justice reform legislation as a state senator, I will work with stakeholders (victims and their advocates, police, prosecutors, the judiciary, civil rights advocates, the defense bar, social workers and mental health professionals) to craft innovative strategies and tactics. This kind of collaboration is not easy, but it is necessary. This is not just “talk”—this is organizing for action.

Lucas: Create funding for more neighborhood officers, a key step to building relationships and providing a positive community presence. That’s in stark contrast to forcing officers to spend evenings driving from call-to-call without time to fully assess community needs and impacts. Invest in more detectives to improve clearance rates in homicides, violent (gun) crime, and sexual assault offenses.

Beyond merely treating violent crime as a public health issue, the City should direct Health Levy funds to behavioral health treatment and outreach to victims, survivors, and communities. Many of our shootings are retaliation. Rather than having officers respond to murder scenes, we should support funding of more health workers to treat the issue before further violence.

Reduce or eliminate incarceration for certain non-violent municipal ordinance violations, following voters’ passage by a 3-to-1 margin of reduced penalties for minor marijuana offenses in 2017. Provide more treatment for addiction services.

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Big Stock Photo

Affordable housing

Does Kansas City have an affordable housing problem, and if so, how would you propose solving it?

Lucas: Kansas City has a significant affordable housing problem. I’d continue and expand on some of my current efforts on the Council. These include allowing greater density for projects built with affordable units and near transit lines and new zoning throughout the city to reduce setback and space requirements. This will allow smaller homes to be built in more dense, walkable communities.

Eliminate economic incentives for projects that don’t include affordable housing—first passed by the Council in May 2018, but at far too high a threshold. Fund the Housing Trust Fund—that exists in most of our peer cities—to help fill development gaps and rehab expenses for both multi- and single-family housing.

Allow greater infill development by modifying land bank rules to expand sales to neighborhood organization non-profits. This would encourage residents who live adjacent to or near vacant lots to buy them. Propose separating (once again) the Department Neighborhoods and Housing Services: one agency focused on construction or rehab of more affordable housing units, the other on neighborhood issues like trash, animal control, etc.

Justus: We have a lack of affordable housing in our city. Too often, affordable housing is not located on convenient transit lines or near job centers. On top of that, our city’s eviction rates are the highest among our most vulnerable residents. We must create, preserve, and stabilize our housing stock. We must continue to use every tool available to build new housing near job centers and transit lines.

Rather than demolish existing housing stock, we must preserve vacant and abandoned properties and convert them into safe, affordable housing. We must hold out-of-town landlords accountable for ensuring the safety and equitable treatment of renters. And, we must stabilize existing housing by increasing public/private partnerships that provide home repair and legal assistance to keep individuals in their homes.

Ultimately, broad-based and job-producing economic growth provides the steady employment necessary to obtain and retain affordable housing. To support that kind of economic growth, I believe we must expand our public commitment to public transit, education, and workforce training in every part of this city.

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Cars driving along Kansas City area streets have been faced with minefields of potholes left from a long winter of freeze and thaw cycles. These potholes located along Ward Parkway were filled with asphalt as a temporary fix shortly after they were photographed on Friday, March 29, 2019. Chris Ochsner cochsner@kcstar.com

Infrastructure

What would you do to prevent infrastructure crises, like this year’s potholes? How can you improve on the city’s strategy for offering basic services?

Justus: Politicians like to talk about “infrastructure,” but when I walked the length of Kansas City I heard residents refer to streets and sidewalks. I propose reorganizing existing city staff into a Department of Transportation. This would streamline delivery of basic services and give taxpayers “more bang for their buck.”

We maintain nearly as many miles of roads as New York City with only a fraction of the tax base, which makes maintenance a challenge. So we need to be as efficient as possible with tax-dollars. Voter approval of the GO Bonds was good news because it gives Kansas City the resources it needs to improve sidewalks, streets, and parks. But, we need to be smart and transparent with that money, and a Department of Transportation will achieve both goals.

As mayor, I will issue publicly available annual reports on GO Bond spending that provide specifics on what projects were undertaken, what was spent, where it was spent, and what’s coming next. Furthermore, I continue to support the Public Improvement Advisory Committee (PIAC), which empowers neighborhoods to shape city infrastructure policy.

Lucas: By paying attention to the city’s long list of infrastructure needs and upholding our promise to the voters to spend on replacement and repair of existing infrastructure, rather than investments in new “Road to Nowhere” luxury projects. The City must focus on the most pressing, decaying road, bridge, sidewalk and infrastructure projects in each district, and come up with a quarterly report—in advance of the next winter pothole crisis—providing accountability and transparency in how the City is addressing pubic needs.

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The Loews Kansas City Convention Center Hotel is under construction at 16th Street and Baltimore Ave. Rich Sugg rsugg@kcstar.com

Development and incentives

What’s working about Kansas City’s development policy? What’s not working, and how would you change it?

Lucas: Kansas City continues to perform well in business attraction and its ability to pitch and secure “home-run” economic development projects in booming parts of the City. We need to enhance our work in developing and growing existing businesses in economically distressed parts of the city and providing more jobs for individuals of all income levels in our community.

We need the statutory agencies that grant incentives (Tax Increment Financing Commission, Planned Industrial Expansion Authority, Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority, Industrial Development Authority and Chapter 353 Program) to better represent the community.

We need folks who come from the education community, from public advocacy, who understand the effects of incentive tools on the public long term. I will appoint a more diverse array of stakeholders. I also will plan to update our economic development policy (Advance KC) so that is tied directly to improving economically distressed communities, rather than often addressing just “blight,” a term so broad that developers apply it everywhere in the city.

We also need to apply incentives more directly to areas of long-term need. The Lucas ordinance or 75% cap on abatements was a step in the right direction, applying a greater set of incentives in areas that are truly blighted and narrowing the use of incentives in areas that are not.

Justus: We have learned much through the successful use of economic incentives in the Downtown and Crossroads neighborhoods, and we should learn from that experience.

I judge every proposal for an economic incentive on a case-by-case basis. I do not assume that every proposal is good or bad. I want to see a well-defined public benefit – such as removal of blight – in return for public investment.

With the new private sector confidence in Downtown investment, it is time for economic development to move deeper into all neighborhoods. Incentives will often be smaller, more targeted, and more creative. For example, incentives should be focused on transportation, workforce development, job creation, and sustainable building practices that address climate change.

We must reboot our Economic Development Corporation and our long-term economic development plans to meld together commercial, housing, and transportation policy aims in “redevelopment corridors.” By considering housing and transportation, we jumpstart businesses’ access to customers and employees. The focus of the this development needs to run east and west, connecting the pockets of success that we have seen in recent years.

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File photo

Leadership

What sets you apart from your opponent?

Justus: Unlike my opponent, I possess practical governmental experience and a few gray hairs that come with that experience. Voters know me and they know my documented track-record of taking on tough issues, building consensus for public policies, and seeing those policies implemented.

As a city councilperson and state senator, I have shown the ability to work with people with differing viewpoints without turning my back on the progressive values that caused me to enter public life. Even when I disagree with someone, I have earned their respect by showing up, telling the truth and following through. The success we have seen in Kansas City is fragile, and we need an experienced leader with a proven track record to make sure we continue our success while addressing the systemic issues that continue to hold us back. Now is not the time for bold promises with little or no follow through.

Lucas: Collaboration. Transparency. Action. These three key things differentiate me from my opponent.

On collaboration, I met with teachers and school leaders from every one of the 14 school districts in Kansas City during our incentive reform efforts. I also met with business leadership in our community to establish the most transformative incentive reforms the city has seen in a generation.

On transparency, I have passed ordinances requiring more disclosure and accountability in how we are spending taxpayer dollars. I have fought consistently to avoid back-room deals and off-book contracts to consultants and lobbyists that aren’t in the best interest of Kansas Citians.

On action, I believe that rather than creating new bureaucracies or having more conversations, the public expects us to take bold, decisive action. I have done that, finding funding to hire more 911 call-takers, making sure people weren’t waiting on hold when they called 911. I helped start a program that provides $500,000 per year to help senior citizens east of Troost with major home repair, so they can stay in their communities. I have worked to increase penalties for people illegally dumping in our community and slumlords leaving trash on too many curbs in our neighborhoods.

What previous administration do you consider a model and why?

Lucas: David Dinkins, former mayor of New York City. He led a then-controversial effort to hire thousands more police officers that was a first of many steps in bringing down the city’s high crime rate. In Kansas City, Emanuel Cleaver shows an outstanding model for how to collaborate with colleagues and for keeping a city unified at a time when many other American cities had significant racial and demographic strife.

Justus: I admire how Mayor James restored professionalism in the Mayor’s Office. After 8 years, it is almost difficult to remember the level of dysfunction that preceded Mayor James’ administration. I respect Mayor Barnes’ ability to envision progress where others had given up, and Mayor Cleaver’s dedication to working with leaders in every part of our city to improve the quality of life in every neighborhood.

When it comes to wrestling a bear, I will leave that to Mayor Wheeler.

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Union Station skyline Rich Sugg - The Kansas City Star For KC @ 150 ORG XMIT: ME15U6FI Rich Sugg The Kansas City Star

Legacy

What do you hope Kansas City looks like at the end of your four or eight years?

Justus: I want a KC that is safer, better connected, cleaner, healthier and wealthier. This means more people, more jobs, more housing options, robust multi-modal transportation and thriving schools. I want every resident, in every neighborhood, to walk out of their house in the morning and know that they are part of Kansas City’s success story. We are a city of proud and resilient residents who can make this happen, if we take City Hall to the neighborhoods and always put neighborhoods first.

Lucas: My greatest goal is that Kansas City is a safer place—getting out of the top 10 most dangerous cities list. That it’s a city where people in every community have access to stable neighborhoods with safe, quality, affordable housing, good schools, and where we are growing not just our population, but are bringing new jobs to workers at all income levels to Kansas City.

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