A new era of Kansas City, Missouri, government has officially begun.
Mayor Quinton Lucas and new city council members were sworn in on the 26th floor of City Hall on a gray, rainy Thursday morning.
"For some people, clear blue skies are this beacon of good fortune, but for me rain is the thing I look for all the time," Lucas said, citing the downpour on the night he was elected in June.
Lucas, 34, defeated Jolie Justus, who had the endorsement of outgoing mayor Sly James.
Over the last eight years, Kansas City was transformed under James’ leadership. The city has a renewed sense of civic pride, with downtown and the Crossroads Arts District flourishing, the streetcar running, a convention hotel under construction and a new airport terminal in the works.
Though he sometimes clashed with the city council, James — with his signature bow tie and #stayfrosty catchphrase — has been popular. The overflow crowd in the city council chambers rose when he took the podium to congratulate the new mayor.
"I have a sincere desire that you become the best mayor the city has ever had," James said.
James presented two gifts to help Lucas settle into his new job: a pair of Kansas City cufflinks and a flask.
Lucas represents a shift in priorities for the city. He said he’ll focus on issues at the neighborhood level rather than chase big, shiny projects.
"Some have called this a time of change, I call this a time of renewal," Lucas said.
Lucas, who was raised by a single mother of three, was sometimes homeless growing up. He attended The Barstow School before leaving Kansas City to study at Washington University in St. Louis and Cornell Law School. He said working through adversity shaped his vision of the city.
Lucas said he wants to curb violent crime and create more affordable housing. He’s been behind efforts to rein in tax incentives, which have been widely used for downtown projects over the past few decades.
He also doubled down on his promise to work towards free public transportation, and to pardon all municipal marijuana offenses.
Lucas closed his remarks by addressing his new colleagues on the council.
"Today we renew our promise to voters, to our citizens, to our neighbors, to do that they expect of us: to run an efficient government focused on good service delivery like picking up the trash and improving the quality of life for everyday Kansas Citians, to remember that momentum has to include us all, to not forget where we came from and to never forget who needs help," Lucas said.
The new city council is a dramatically different body from the one that made key decisions for the city over the last four years. Six current councilmembers were in the mayoral primary, leaving half of the council seats empty.
Incumbents Heather Hall, Dan Fowler, Teresa Loar, Katheryn Shields, Lee Barnes, Jr., and Kevin McManus will return for a second term. Lucas selected McManus to serve as his Mayor Pro Tem.
The six newcomers come from an array of backgrounds. Of note: Most are not lawyers, a departure from the previous council.
Kevin O’Neill publishes a labor newspaper. Brandon Ellington is a former Missouri state representative and community organizer. Melissa Robinson is a healthcare advocate. Eric Bunch is the founder of BikeWalkKC. Ryana Parks-Shaw is a healthcare executive. And Andrea Bough is a real estate attorney.
The new city council met for the first time following the inauguration ceremony.
Among various rule changes to improve efficiency of meetings, the council approved the creation of three committees: Finance, Governance and Public Safety; Transportation, Infrastructure and Operations; and Neighborhood Planning and Development.
Lisa Rodriguez covers Kansas City, Missouri, City Hall and is the afternoon newscaster for KCUR 89.3. Follow her on Twitter @larodrig.