Both Kansas City mayoral finalists, Quinton Lucas and Jolie Justus, are smart, progressive lawyers running for heart-in-the-right-place reasons after one term on the City Council. If the “Who’d you rather have a beer with?” question told us anything useful — and no, it doesn’t — we’d be hopelessly torn between two pleasant people.
But though their talking points have sounded more and more similar as this campaign has gone on, Lucas and Justus would bring very different skills, life experience and outlooks to the office, and would lead this city in very different directions.
In another moment — one requiring less movement and more of the “steady hand” that Justus often mentions — she’d be a fine choice. But it’s Lucas who is more apt to accomplish any item on the difficult change agenda they both talk about. And that’s why Lucas has earned The Star’s endorsement ahead of Tuesday’s election.
He has already demonstrated that he can count to seven — an essential skill on the 13-member City Council. He has led his council colleagues and successfully built majority coalitions on desperately needed incentive reform and housing initiatives. Too frequently, Justus has not led but has followed on the council, often silently.
It’s Lucas who first prioritized the affordable housing issue that, as we’ve been writing for the last two years, must top the city’s agenda now. His policy prescriptions are more detailed and have been presented more cohesively.
He has also been far more transparent than Justus, a former two-term state senator who perhaps because of her years as a lawmaker in Jefferson City has seemed genuinely puzzled by the idea that it’s important to keep the public in the know.
Asked in an interview with The Star Editorial Board ahead of the April primary about the opacity of the backroom, no-bid airport deal that was just weeks from approval before we reported on it, she said, “I’m not sure what we would have gotten out quicker.”
But was keeping a no-bid contract for a $1.5 billion project secret the wrong thing to do? “Here’s what I don’t understand. When you’re the mayor of Kansas City, and someone has a big idea and they bring it to you, when do you go public with that?” Lucas understands that the correct answer is always the same: right away.
Whether because Justus isn’t sure or would rather not say, she too often answers questions about what she’d do as mayor with the promise to convene all stakeholders and have a conversation about x, y or z issue.
Asked at one recent Kansas City Star debate about whether a state auditor should study our defective city water meters and other issues in that department, she said, “I am open to a conversation about a state audit, and this is a tough conversation.”
Lucas answered this way: “I’m not just open to a conversation on a state audit; I think we need a state audit of the water department.”
At another Star debate, the candidates were asked whether Kansas City should build a baseball stadium downtown. Even to this softball, Justus said, “I would love to see baseball played downtown. Should it be a priority? I’m not sure we can make it a priority, and here’s why: We have to make sure we’re taking care of the basic needs first, and we cannot forgo momentum in order to do this, but at the same time, we need to make sure we’re having the conversation ... I’m happy to have the conversation. It can’t be a top priority, but it’s part of the conversation we need to have as a community.”
And Lucas? “We need a new downtown baseball stadium like I need a new Maserati. It’d be cool to have, but I don’t have the money.”
BEHIND OUR REPORTING
Who decides the endorsements?
Members of The Kansas City Star editorial board interview political candidates, as well as advocates and opponents of ballot measures. The editorial board is comprised of experienced opinion journalists and is separate from The Star’s newsroom. Members of The Star editorial board are: Star publisher Tony Berg, Colleen McCain Nelson, Derek Donovan, Dave Helling, Melinda Henneberger, Toriano Porter and Michael Ryan. Read more by clicking the arrow in the upper right.
What does the endorsement process entail?
The Star editorial board meets with political candidates. The interviews are largely focused on public policy, and each lasts about an hour. Board members do additional reporting and research to learn as much as possible about the candidates. The editorial board then convenes to discuss the candidates in each race. Board members seek to reach a consensus on the endorsements, but not every decision is unanimous.
Is the editorial board partisan?
No. In making endorsements, members of the editorial board consider which candidates are well prepared to represent their constituents — not whether they agree with us or belong to a particular political party. We evaluate candidates’ relevant experience, their readiness for office, their depth of knowledge of key issues and their understanding of public policy. We’re seeking candidates who are thoughtful and who offer more than just party-line talking points. The editorial board will endorse both Republicans and Democrats. We make recommendations about who the best-qualified candidates for these jobs are.
Why are endorsements unsigned?
Endorsements reflect the collective views of The Star’s editorial board — not just the opinion of one writer. Board members all discuss and contribute ideas to each endorsement editorial.
Even on the issue of whether they’d campaign for or against the effort to undo the recent renaming of The Paseo for Martin Luther King Jr., which the council has already talked about for years, Justus’ first response was, yes, “We have to sit down and bring all of the voices to the table and have a conversation.”
Lucas was homeless — at one point, couch-surfing in his great aunt’s room in a nursing home — for a couple of stretches during his childhood while being raised by a working single mother on the East Side. But he did well at The Barstow School, Washington University and Cornell Law — and then, when he could have gone anywhere, chose to come back home to help solve problems he knows firsthand.
He’s in public service, he says, because “I heard too many people say, ‘Wow, you’re such an exception.’ I don’t want to be an exception.”
Justus, a 48-year-old judge’s daughter from Branson, began her campaign saying that she wanted to “keep the momentum going,” and slowly shifted to echoing many of Lucas’ talking points about addressing violent crime in one of the country’s most dangerous cities, racial equity in one of its most segregated, and the lack of affordable housing in a city that still has a chance to avoid becoming the kind of place where only the wealthy can afford to live.
Lucas’s nickname as a kid was “the professor,” and according to his oldest sister, he has “always been 30.” Now, at only 34, he has the chance to become an exceptional mayor of the city he loves.
Voters should give him, and all of us who live in Kansas City, the chance to prove that even in this divisive day in America, it’s possible to bring us together.
The Star is partnering with the nonprofit Verify More to conduct background checks on City Council candidates, and you can see the results of that screening process at verifymore.org.