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Kansas City Mayor Survives Recall Attempt — For Now

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas has become the target of a recall petition for, among other reasons, his handling of protestors arrested during recent Black Lives Matter demonstrations.
Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas has become the target of a recall petition for, among other reasons, his handling of protestors arrested during recent Black Lives Matter demonstrations.

Recall organizers hoped to oust Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas over his coronavirus response and stance on social justice protests. They failed but say they’re not done trying.

Mask orders and social distancing requirements were some of the top complaints for some of those signing the recall petition. Will Bates runs a small heating and cooling company and says Mayor Quinton Lucas is hurting his business.

“This is America. And, uh, I don't think there should be any mask mandate or any lockdowns," said Bates while sitting outside at a bar where there were no masks in sight. “We know how to take care of ourselves."

Many public officials would beg to differ. They generally applaud Lucas’ decision to extend the mask order into January, when they say the pandemic will likely still be going strong.

But the pandemic response isn’t the only beef — or even the main one — many recall advocates have with Lucas. They say Lucas, who’s black, mishandled this summer’s Black Lives Matter protests.

“He's marching in the middle of the streets with all of the rioters and yelling 'No justice, no peace,'” said recall organizer Jami Bailey, recalling a march in early June. “Yelling 'No justice, no peace" does not mean that you're standing with the police department."

The people she’s referring to as “rioters” were actually protesting entirely peacefully. Police Chief Rick Smith met with protesters later at the same event she mentioned, and police were much less confrontational than they were in earlier protests. It was part of a successful effort to turn down the heat on the demonstrations.

But Bailey’s husband is a Kansas City, Missouri, police officer, and she reads that chant as a direct threat to police.

“If that officer is not prosecuted and fired and his entire life torn upside down because of a shooting that was justified or another, whatever it was, that there will not be peace. There will constantly be riots. There were constantly be looting. There will constantly be unrest,” said Bailey.

Lucas isn’t alone in facing recall this year. Beth Vonnahme teaches political science at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She said recall efforts have sprung up around the country, mostly over COVID-19 and sometimes over Black Lives Matter protests. Combining those issues is unusual, but she says the outcome of the Lucas recall drive followed the same pattern most petition drives do.

“They are very rarely successful. Mostly they're unsuccessful because the petitioners don't get enough signatures,” says Vonnahme.

And that’s what torpedoed the drive against Lucas. Recall organizers threw in the towel before the deadline to turn in signatures even passed. The group’s fundraising was also weak, generating less than $3,000 on a $50,000.

Bradley Sarver, a Kansas City real estate agent who spearheaded the recall, said the group learned a lot and will plow that know-how into a second recall attempt, one built around a more exclusive and secretive Facebook page.

What’s not clear is whether Sarver’s recall effort can broaden its base, which so far is built mostly on ardent supporters of President Trump.

But civil rights leaders are not entirely pleased with Lucas either, but they do see a problem with the recall.“It is motivated by thinly veiled racism,” said lawyer and BLM activist Stacy Shaw.

Shaw said that’s evident in the recall group’s hostility to social justice protests, Black Lives Matter murals and other black elected leaders.

But Shaw is no fan of Quinton Lucas. She sees him standing in the way of efforts to check police brutality.

“It’s clear that he is not against the police because he passes pro-police ordinances,” said Shaw.

She’s talking about a measure Lucas introduced to criminalize the sharing of private information about police officers.

Like many other local civil rights leaders, Shaw condemns Lucas’ support for Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith and his shifting stance on Operation LeGend, the surge of federal investigators sent into Kansas City.

The failed recall shines a bright light on the rocky political landscape facing Lucas. He’s got motivated, angry constituents coming at him from the right and the left, but so far, he seems to be on solid ground in the middle.

I’ve been at KCUR almost 30 years, working partly for NPR and splitting my time between local and national reporting. I work to bring extra attention to people in the Midwest, my home state of Kansas and of course Kansas City. What I love about this job is having a license to talk to interesting people and then crafting radio stories around their voices. It’s a big responsibility to uphold the truth of those stories while condensing them for lots of other people listening to the radio, and I take it seriously. Email me at frank@kcur.org or find me on Twitter @FrankNewsman.
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