Melinda Henneberger

KC Mayor Sly James’ hand-off to Quinton Lucas has been more like a brush-off

The absence of any real relationship between Kansas City’s outgoing and incoming mayors has mostly been their own business. They’re not required to pal around, or to like each other.

But this transition is the public’s business, and the hand-off has so far been such a brush-off that Mayor-elect Quinton Lucas said on Friday morning that he wasn’t even sure that outgoing Mayor Sly James would be speaking at his swearing-in, as is traditional.

“I would like him to be a part of our ceremony,” Lucas said. “We made that invitation, and I hope he’s able to make it.”

(By Friday afternoon, a few hours after I asked about it, the mayor’s office said yes he would be speaking — “briefly.”)

Just one conversation between mayors

Beyond the ceremony, what about the substance? Has the 67-year-old with eight years of experience in the job been preparing his 34-year-old successor?

The mayor’s spokeswoman said they’ve met “multiple times.”

“We’ve had a conversation,” Lucas said, in which “he told me not to worry about upsetting people.”

Yes, just one meeting, Lucas said, for about 30 minutes, a week after the election, “with a couple of quick follow-ups. And he’s said I can call on him if I need to, and I’ll take him up on that if conditions require it.”

Hoo boy. And would those conditions have to include a countdown clock and a nuclear detonator?

Sly doesn’t have to be gracious

Outgoing City Councilwoman Alissia Canady, who also ran for mayor, observed that “Sly’s not being gracious because he doesn’t have to be” on his way out of office.

But then, she said, James routinely “wears his feelings on his sleeve. Quinton was not his person” in the mayor’s race. James enthusiastically endorsed Jolie Justus, his closest ally on the Kansas City Council, and seems to have taken her loss in a Lucas landslide personally.

The “old-school” former Marine doesn’t believe that the mayor-elect is a particularly worthy successor, Canady says, “and he’s not going to pretend.”

Lucas, who takes office Thursday, feels that, saying that while he respects James’ service, “I’m not sure he has the same respect for mine.”

A shot at Lucas in James’ book

That is not just conjecture. In an exit interview with The Star, James was not willing to say whether Lucas is ready to be mayor. He answered by not answering, saying, “That’s up to other people to decide.”

James also took an extended shot at his successor in his sporadically petty new memoir, “A Passion for Purpose.” In it, James calls Lucas a “fledgling councilman” determined to play the hero on transparency during the debate over a new terminal at Kansas City International Airport.

“After less than one year in office, he declared that he didn’t have faith that the city legal department was competent to handle this project. As such, Lucas convinced enough of his colleagues that outside law firms needed to be retained,” James wrote.

“I still have no idea what any of them did,” James complained, “other than send us a massive bill ... This was a real and disrespectful kick in the ass.” If it was, are Lucas and James even yet?

‘I think he’ll grow’

In an interview with James on KCUR’s “Central Standard” last week, Michelle Tyrene Johnson told the mayor, “You in passing made a reference to your successor in the book. You seem to think he’s a little bit green, or at least he was at one point.”

Lucas will learn, James replied, just as he himself had. But “the real issue with being in this office is knowing who you are so you’re not a leaf blowing in the wind of other people’s desires.” That’s essentially the knock on Lucas that Justus campaigned on.

“I think he’ll grow into that,” James continued. “I hope he does. I think he will, and because he is the mayor of this city, and because it’s not about him, just like it wasn’t about me, it’s always about the city, I’ll be willing to do whatever I can to help make sure the city continues to move forward. If he needs me, he’s got my number.”

Again, this makes it sound as though when doomsday dawns, James will be willing to answer the phone.

Canady, who hadn’t heard the KCUR interview but knows her colleagues well, used some of the same words James had to pinpoint the problem between the mayors. James has long seemed offended by how strategic Lucas is, she said. “Sly hates that about him most because he always wants to know who and where are you. And with Quinton, it’s gray until he has to make a decision.”

Our Hamilton and Burr?

If you, too, have listened to the “Hamilton” cast album a few thousand times, maybe this will remind you of the difference between a heart-on-sleeve Alexander Hamilton, who leaves nothing unexpressed, and a far more guarded — “Don’t let them know what you’re against or what you’re for” — Aaron Burr. OK, or not.

Instead of a duel — or the bare minimum of contact that now seems likely — Canady recommends the “man-to-man conversation” she doesn’t think the two mayors have ever had.

If Lucas really needed James, Canady said, she’s confident that he would come through for him, and more importantly, for the city. Lucas said the same.

But Mr. Mayor, do you really want your exit to be so ungenerous? Putting personal feelings aside shouldn’t require an emergency.