After 100 Days, Kansas City's New Mayor Says He's Made Progress On Guns And Housing
When Quinton Lucas was elected mayor of Kansas City, Missouri, he said his success would be determined by three issues: crime, housing, and infrastructure.
With 100 days behind him as of Friday, Lucas says he’s feeling good about his progress.
“I'm excited about the opportunities we have in Kansas City. I think we've been able to push through some very helpful legislation,” Lucas says.
So while he says he'll celebrate the first big milestone in his mayoral tenure by trying to get a full night's sleep, he acknowledged in an interview to KCUR that there’s a long road ahead when it comes to his priorities.
Here’s a look at what he's accomplished so far and what remains unfinished.
Lucas has critiqued his predecessor, Sly James, for blaming elected officials in Jefferson City and Washington, D.C., for Kansas City’s gun violence problem. Instead, Lucas has taken to advocating for local gun legislation that can't be negated by the state, which required a little creativity.
A measure that would allow police to seize guns from minors sailed through the council in August, and another that would keep guns out of the hands of people accused of domestic abuse is poised to pass, too.
Lucas says the next step is taking action on the kind of gun violence that doesn't kill people, but is damaging nonetheless.
“There are about 400 people this year in Kansas City who are going to survive gunshots. Those 400 people, are we talking to them? Are we giving them the trauma resources they need?," he asks. "Are we looking at long-term issues that actually helped stem that type of retaliatory violence that we see too often?”
Are we looking at long-term issues that actually helped stem that type of retaliatory violence that we see too often? -Quinton Lucas
The day he was sworn into office, Lucas promised to follow through on his campaign pledge to pardon all municipal marijuana offenses in his first 100 days.
That has proven to be complicated, he says: “The pardon really just kind of commutes the sentence that you have, but most people are actually past that point of their sentence.”
Expunging a person's marijuana record altogether would have more impact, he says. He notes his office is trying to figure out how to do "mass expungements," but provided no timeline.
Eventually, Lucas says he'd like to remove marijuana possession from the city's list of ordinance-level violations, but did not indicate when that might happen.
One of Lucas’ top priorities was to identify money for a $75 million housing trust fund, which would assist in the construction or rehabilitation of rental housing for low-income residents.
He says he’s found about $42 million from a mix of sources, including the federal Community Development Block Grant Program, the Central City Economic Development sales tax and a minor home repair program.
“We're just in the middle of a budget year, by the way. So it's not like we've had a budget cycle to really do it … I expect us to fully fund the housing trust fund,” Lucas says.
Lucas is also the lead sponsor of a suite of ordinances to protect renters, which make up half of the city's residents. His mayoral victory was aided by the support of the nonprofit KC Tenants, but that support was conditioned on his promise to back a Tenants Bill of Rights, which is currently being considered by the housing committee. That committee declined to take action on the measures this week.
The proposals include protections from discrimination and retaliation, but don't yet include funding for legal counsel for tenants, which KC Tenants originally requested.
On tax incentives
During his campaign, Lucas told KCUR he would severely limit the amount of tax incentives available to developers west of Troost Avenue, with few exceptions. He also has publicly opposed incentives for a possible office tower downtown and a luxury hotel near the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
I mean, that is the type of economic impact that you would at least say is making some sort of difference ... it's not just a one-off luxury multifamily development. - Quinton Lucas
And when it comes to a deal between Missouri and Kansas that would incentivize businesses to cross the state line only if they're creating new jobs, Lucas is on board. But as part of that, Lucas says he would limit tax abatements in Kansas City, Missouri, to 10 years, which would fall in line with Kansas’ rules. That piece of legislation has been held up in a council committee for weeks without discussion.
In the meantime, financial services company Waddell & Reed is planning to move across the state line to Kansas City, Missouri. That deal was in the works before the so-called “Border War truce” and the company will receive generous state tax breaks. But it’s also asking for local incentives to build a new office tower somewhere downtown.
Lucas says Waddell & Reed is promising to bring more than 1,000 high-paying jobs, though it's unclear how many of those jobs already exist or will be new positions.
“I mean, that is the type of economic impact that you would at least say is making some sort of difference that it's not just a one-off luxury multifamily development,” Lucas says.
An attorney for Waddell & Reed told the Kansas City Star that the mayor had endorsed the incentive deal, but Lucas told KCUR he and the council would discuss the incentives with "significant scrutiny."
After last winter’s pothole war, then-candidate Lucas said the city needs an infrastructure plan that’s not reactionary. As mayor, he admits the city doesn't have that.
“I think council continues to work towards long-term road repair programs and initiative,” Lucas says.
Lucas laments that some of the general obligation bonds voters approved in 2017 for infrastructure have gone to build new roads, rather than replace old ones.
“Look for the next budget battle to be another opportunity for those of us who believe in maintaining existing infrastructure to make sure our voices are heard,” Lucas says.
Lisa Rodriguez is the City Hall reporter and afternoon newscaster for KCUR 89.3. Follow her on Twitter @larodrig.