A 34-year-old black man whose family was homeless at times during his childhood in Kansas City will become the city’s 55th mayor.
Voters this week chose Quinton Lucas over fellow City Council member Jolie Justus in a mayoral runoff, according to unofficial results that showed him with a commanding lead. Lucas will assume office in August, replacing Sly James, another black mayor who served two four-year terms.
“Our final mandate is this: no matter who we are, no matter where you are, no matter what circumstance you find yourself in, in our Kansas City we always believe that you have an opportunity, we always believe that you can persevere,” Lucas said in his victory speech Tuesday night. “In our Kansas City we believe that whatever has happened in your past does not dictate your future. In our Kansas City we believe in fairness for everyone.”
Justus, a former state lawmaker and current City Council member, had James’ endorsement and would have been the city’s first openly gay mayor. She conceded in a sometimes tearful speech on Tuesday night.
“So what is next?” Justus said. “I’m not going to disengage just because I didn’t get the outcome I wanted.”
Both Lucas and Justus are attorneys with similar voting records during their first terms on the City Council. During the campaign, both said their top priorities were reducing crime, increasing affordable housing and spreading development projects across the city. Although the election was officially nonpartisan, both candidates are Democrats.
Lucas said he and his family, led by a single mother, were often homeless during his childhood on Kansas City’s impoverished east side. Despite those struggles, Lucas won academic scholarships to a prestigious private school in Kansas City and then to Washington University in St. Louis and Cornell Law School. He is a practicing attorney and a member of the University of Kansas law faculty. He was endorsed by the police and firefighters’ unions.
During six debates leading up to Tuesday’s vote, Lucas and Justus offered different approaches to some of their top priorities. Lucas cast himself as an outsider to city government who wanted to fundamentally change how the city provides basic services and distributes tax incentives to encourage development. He said Justus was too close to developers and to James, and said she would continue policies that shortchanged impoverished areas, particularly the east side.
Justus emphasized her history in the Legislature and on the council as someone willing to collaborate with all sides and find solutions to longstanding issues.
Lucas was the primary sponsor of an ordinance that caps tax abatements or other tax incentives for development at 75 percent, with some exceptions. Developers had been able to get up to 100 percent property tax abatement on certain projects, which led to criticism from some that the city awarded tax breaks for private projects too often. Some developers and city officials opposed the plan, concerned it might slow Kansas City’s growth and pursuit of development projects.
Justus was chairwoman of the city’s airport committee, which ended a nearly seven-year effort to bring a modern single-terminal airport to Kansas City. She acknowledged mistakes were made early in the process when a no-bid deal was considered without public knowledge to allow Burns & McDonnell to build the privately financed single terminal airport. After severe criticism, the no-bid contract was dropped and the city went through a competitive bidding process.