KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Two candidates with vastly different life stories but several comparable political views are on today's (TUE) ballot to become Kansas City's next mayor. Quinton Lucas, a 34-year-old black man, and Jolie Justus, a 48-year-old gay woman, are both 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 is officially nonpartisan, both candidates are Democrats.
The winner will take office in August, replacing Mayor Sly James, who could not run again after serving two four-year terms.
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.
Justus would be Kansas City's first openly gay mayor. It was not an issue in the campaign, as it wasn't in Lori Lightfoot's recent landslide mayoral win in Chicago. Justus, who was endorsed by James, was raised in Branson and earned degrees at Missouri State University and the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She is director of pro bono services for a Kansas City law firm and an adjunct professor at Missouri-Kansas City. She served two terms in the Missouri Senate from 2006-2014 before returning to Kansas City and being elected to the city council.
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. She said the city has been on an economic and development "roll" during the last decade that she wants to continue while moving the focus from downtown to neighborhoods and underserved areas.
Lucas was the primary sponsor of a controversial ordinance that caps tax abatements or other tax incentives for development at 75%, with some exceptions. Developers had been able to get up to 100% 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 and controversial 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. Justus acknowledged that she should have pushed for the competitive bidding process earlier but said Kansas City residents eventually voted overwhelmingly for the new airport and it is on schedule to open in 2023.
Voters today (TUE) will also elect all 12 members of the city council. Under Kansas City's council-manager system, the mayor oversees council meetings and represents the city in other arenas but a city manager handles daily municipal operations.