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In Speedy First Debate, Kansas City Mayoral Hopefuls Tackle Potholes, Hotel Supply And Housing

Luke X. Martin
KCUR 89.3
Kansas City Councilmembers Jolie Justus and Quinton Lucas squared off Monday in the first of 12 mayoral debates.

In the first of 12 forums before Election Day, Kansas City mayoral candidates Jolie Justus and Quinton Lucas spent a mere 30 minutes covering a lot of ground: the city's economic incentive policy, violent crime and potholes. 

Monday's forum was hosted by KCTV5 and KCMO Talk Radio, with only a small audience of family and guests. Lucas and Justus advanced to the general election after a crowded April primary, getting the most votes out of a pool of 11 candidates. Current Mayor Sly James has served two terms and cannot run again.  

Both candidates agreed that it’s time for Kansas City to refocus its economic incentive policy.

Justus said the city hasn’t overbuilt its hotel supply and praised the new convention hotel, which is under construction downtown, for being ahead on booking. But, she said, investment should happen elsewhere.

“When I think about what we need to be building next, it’s not hotels. It’s housing, it’s transportation, it’s small business incubators — the things that we’re going to need to take this city to the next level,” Justus said.

Lucas disagreed, saying simply: “We have overbuilt.” He added that the city is directly investing millions of taxpayer dollars into the convention hotel, in addition to tax breaks.

“And frankly I think we need to get out of that space, allow the private market to work the way it should,” Lucas said.

Justus and Lucas are both attorneys who currently serve on the city council — Justus represents the 4th District which covers parts of Midtown, downtown and the River Market ; Lucas is in the 3rd District in the eastern part of the city.

Other issues covered on Monday night included jobs and workforce, affordable housing, medical marijuana and the new airport terminal. And, of course, potholes.

When asked about how they would prevent a repeat of this winter’s whack-a-mole pothole situation, Justus said she planned to create a Department of Transportation that would handle street repair, as well as work to create a robust public transportation system.

“We’re always chasing after the tough winter, we’re always chasing after the holes in the ground,” Justus said. “It’s time to start forward-thinking and that's something we can do if we put things in a streamlined manner under a single department of transportation.”

Lucas said the issue is not planning — it’s keeping promises. He said the infrastructure bonds that voters approved in 2017 were supposed to be for fixing existing roads, yet the city council has approved building new roads on the outskirts of Kansas City.

“So that was $9 million that’s not going to filling potholes, $9 million not going to the basic infrastructure we said we’d do,” Lucas said.

Lucas and Justus also weighed in on who they most align with in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary; while Kansas City’s election is nonpartisan, both are registered Democrats. Lucas answered Kamala Harris and Joe Biden, while Justus named Harris and Elizabeth Warren.

The next mayoral forum is 6 p.m. Wednesday. It's sponsored by Telemundo, Univision, KC Hispanic News and the Hispanic Chamber. Election Day is June 18. 

Lisa Rodriguez is a reporter and the afternoon newscaster at KCUR 89.3. Follow her on Twitter @larodrig.

Slow news days are a thing of the past. As KCUR’s news director, I want to cut through the noise, provide context to the headlines, and give you news you can use in your daily life – information that will empower you to make informed decisions about your neighborhood, your city and the region. Email me at lisa@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @larodrig.
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