Candidates Justus, Lucas go toe-to-toe on trustworthiness in debate for KC mayor
Kansas City mayoral candidate Quinton Lucas, in condemning negative campaigning by opponent Jolie Justus, said repeatedly he would stay positive and never “hit back.”
“If you ever see anything from a supporter of mine on the day that it comes out — not a month later, not two weeks later — I will disavow it and say that is wrong,” he said at a debate sponsored by The Star earlier this month, arguing that Kansas City voters don’t want to see “negative” campaigning.
Now, in the final days of the campaign, he’s condemning an attack against Justus from a political action committee spending money to portray her as cozy with billionaires. At the same time, Justus is accusing him of going back on his promise to stay positive, saying it underscores her chief criticism of him: that he’s unreliable.
Justus and Lucas, both first-term members of the City Council, beat out nine other candidates in an April primary and face off in Tuesday’s general election. Justus also served two terms in the Missouri Senate.
And as the election draws close, the campaign rhetoric has heated, with opponents trying to draw sharp contrasts between each other.
Justus and supporters have sunk serious capital into ads depicting Lucas as untrustworthy, which Lucas has repeatedly deplored.
Now, a political action committee called Voters for Good Government is sending anti-Justus mailers. On one side is the image of cash wrapped in a ribbon with charges about her record in Jefferson City and on the City Council. The other side shows Justus in a campaign photo flanked by a man holding stacks of dollar bills.
It says, “With Jolie Justus, powerful corporations and developers do well, while neighborhoods get left behind.”
Reached Friday, Lucas said he didn’t know the PAC behind the mailers and would return any contributions from those connected to it.
“I wholly condemn any negative attacks — full stop,” Lucas said.
Lucas went on to say he dislikes negative campaigning and that, unlike Justus, he would not put a statement on his website calling her credibility or record into question. A box on her campaign website says voters can’t trust Lucas.
“I find it a bit hypocritical that the other side is right now saying, ‘Gosh yes, see there are negative ads that misrepresent somebody’s character and distort them with pictures that are, in a way, unflattering when they have continued to do the same thing for over a month in this campaign,” Lucas said.
The Carpenters Help in the Political Process PAC had to apologize for a mailer attacking Lucas. Both candidates deemed it racist because of Lucas’ appearance in a photo.
Justus, though, claimed it was a departure from Lucas’ promise to run a positive campaign, although the mailers were funded by an outside group.
“All along I’ve said that the voters of Kansas City want to know the difference between the two of us, and this kind of once again underscores the fact that he says one thing and does another,” Justus said.
Voters for Good Government spent $9,200 on the mailers, primarily funded by Leawood-based OCM Lease Corporation.
Another mailer produced by the same group shows a handshake between two people whose faces can’t be seen and says, “Drug deals near our kids?” On the other side, it calls Justus “wrong for public safety” and calls into question her vote against a bill that made selling several types of illegal drugs near parks a Class A felony.
The mailer claiming she’s too cozy with billionaires also criticized her vote against the cap on economic development incentives Lucas shepherded to passage in 2016. It limits to 75 percent the amount of taxes that can be abated or redirected to encourage new construction in Kansas City.
Justus said she voted against it because on the day of the vote, a group of citizens who are often critical of incentives were still pushing to lower the cap to 50 percent. She said she didn’t feel like there was a consensus.
That group went on to put a question on the ballot capping incentives at 50 percent. Voters will decide on it at the same time they vote for mayor. Both candidates oppose the measure, which will be on Tuesday’s ballot as Question One.
“At the same time, if you look at my voting record, you can see that I have voted no on economic development incentives,” Justus said.
The mailer also cites her votes for a series of economic development incentives around the state, including a $1.7 billion package to bring a Boeing plant to the St. Louis area. Justus said she carefully weighed the proposals, pointing to a package of incentives offered to Ford for an expansion of its Claycomo plant as a success.
“I think it’s unfortunate the way it was characterized, but it’s always easy to take a look at someone’s voting record and Monday morning quarterback it,” she said.
She also accused Lucas of working with “the people who brought us Ted Cruz and Mark Funkhouser,” a Kansas City-based political consulting firm called Axiom Strategies.
Copies of a digital poll obtained by The Star show an Axiom-affiliated company, Remington Research, tested voters’ reactions to a mockup of the mailers.
The group also polled voters on a pro-Lucas TV commercial put out by Taxpayers Unlimited, a PAC affiliated with the firefighters union that endorsed Lucas. It accuses Justus of a “nasty, negative campaign” and supporting Lucas’ vision.
Over the weekend, Kansas Citians reported receiving messages from unknown 816 numbers. They included a photo of a TV airing the Taxpayers Unlimited commercial and a message that reads, “OMG! Did you see this??? Jolie Justus has gotten negative and desperate. I’m disappointed. :(“
A call to any of the numbers sending the texts yielded an automated message telling the user to press 1 to unsubscribe from future Remington Research calling campaigns.
Both Remington Research and Axiom Strategies are owned by Jeff Roe, a national GOP operative with deep ties to Missouri who managed Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign. Roe did not respond to an email requesting comment Saturday..
On Twitter, Lucas denied knowledge of the source of the text messages. He said they did not come from his campaign.
“Same thing I said yesterday is the case,” Lucas said. “If I find it links to any of my supporters, I’ll give the money back.”
Lucas said his campaign was not working with Axiom or Remington Research and claimed the Justus campaign was pushing the notion. The firm doesn’t show up on Missouri Ethics Commission reports for his campaign or the reports filed by the two PACs that apparently used Remington Research to poll voters.
William Clark Hardin IV, treasurer of the Voters for Good Government PAC, based in St. Charles, declined to comment on the mailer. But in a statement, he said the group “supports candidates across the state who support smaller government and commonsense, community-oriented policies.”
Hardin said Lucas was focused on “the ideas that really matter — better police, better infrastructure and fiscal responsibility” while Justus was “focused on continuing costly policies that don’t work.”
Lucas said he had never heard of the group.
Unlike the firefighters and carpenters’ PACs that have been advertising on behalf of Lucas and Justus, respectively, Lucas said he had not gone through an endorsement screening process for Voters for Good Government.
Lucas pointed out Justus has received more than $180,000 from the Carpenters Help in the Political Process PAC and the City of Fountains Committee, which have both attacked his credibility.
“What Councilwoman Justus is trying to do is have her cake and eat it, too, and saying, ‘Yeah, well that ad was racist. I had nothing to do with it, but go ahead and keep doing nice stuff for me,’” Lucas said, calling it the sort of “bullshit” that comes up late in a campaign.