KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Quinton Lucas sat down for a one-on-one interview with KSHB 41 News as the calendar year comes to a close, covering a wide range of topics that have affected Kansas City in the last 12 months.
One of the main topics of the year was COVID-19.
"I think a lot of people are concerned, I’m concerned, we all thought at the beginning of 2021 that we’d be in a very different position as it relates to COVID-19. The new variant creates significant concerns for many. I think what we are seeing right now, though, is that we are in a transition phase where how we address this crisis," the mayor said. "That transition includes individuals electing to wear masks in more situations, but not having government mandates that do them since we've received substantial challenge from the Missouri Attorney General, other statewide politicians that challenge our orders in schools and elsewhere. I think what we are also seeing is, continue to encourage people to get vaccinated when you go in for medical checkups, when you find yourself with concerns, that is the key difference right now."
The city's violent crime concerns were also a key topic in the discussion as Kansas City is set to record its second deadliest year when it comes to homicides.
How the city brings down those numbers, as well as bringing in a new police chief, will be key priorities for the Lucas administration in 2022.
"I think it’s obvious to any Kansas Citian when we talk about crime, that we’re not where we need to be. We have tried a lot of efforts recently reaching out to more neighborhood associations, looking at root causes of violent crime, making sure that we're giving pay raises to our police officers and now hiring new classes," the mayor said.
The focus will be on helping the community.
"We will look for our best chief available anywhere in the country, and that could be someone who's at the Kansas City Police Department now. I know there are many talented folks in leadership at KCPD now but there may be folks outside the country," Lucas explained. "The important thing for us to do is to make sure that no matter where we're looking or who it is that they are ready with a crime-fighting plan, that they're ready, in terms of how they can reach out to communities, how they can communicate more clearly in some ways than we have in the past with communities and how they can make sure that we're showing our empathy with every family that's been impacted by violent crime in Kansas City."
The mayor also addressed supporting the police department, as budgetary concerns were a key talking point in the community in the past year.
"There's been a lot of political discourse about this or that with American policing. I think it's all been a total waste of time for us. I am one who has never believed in defunding, but I also haven't just believed in shouting back the blue and not actually looking at how we can do better. We work hard each day to do better. I talk to law enforcement officers each day who do that, health department officials, doctors, social workers, teachers, neighborhood leaders, we need to get back to making sure that we have those conversations, central public safety, and I think the new chief, as our chief crime fighter will be essential to that you can't just have somebody who's at police headquarters every day they need to be out in the community, and that more than where they are right now. That's what I'm looking for."
The mayor was also asked about the upcoming political year in 2022, as well as the city's decision to withdraw from hosting consideration for the 2024 Republican National Convention.
"I’m excited as mayor to be past the 2022 elections. I can't wait until November, when the elections are over, no matter how it comes out. We can get back to doing the things that people in Kansas City want," Mayor Lucas said. "To us, I think the question was, can we raise $65 to $80 million to help support the Republican Convention's bid here in Kansas City, particularly given the cost of security for any political convention? And the answer, I think, was no. And so for us, it wasn't necessarily a Republican or Democratic issue. The Democratic Party did not reach out to us to host a convention, the Republican Party did. But unfortunately for us, we're just not in a position I think, to generate the $80 million in expenses that we needed to attract it."
Lastly, the impact of Kevin Strickland's release on the community moving forward is top of mind for Lucas - creating a more equitable community across all parts of society.
"That means that we need to make sure that we are supporting adequate legal representation in more situations," he said. "That's why I was proud to sign into law, our tenants right to counsel bill to make sure that everyone who's facing eviction can get fair legal counsel paid for by the city. That's why we've made sure that we are having equitable public transportation, continuing to fund zero-fare transit and being a national leader."
Overall, while there's work to do, Lucas is still optimistic 2022 will be a good year.
"I am...proud to be a mayor that makes a fairer city for everyone, where there is never a story like Kevin Strickland's again, where there is never somebody who says I can't get to work because the bus can't pick me up and I can't afford it. And where in every situation somebody is able to find adequate health care and adequate housing in this city. That's what mayors should be about. I'm proud to be a national leader in it," he said. "And when I look at the story of 2021 it has been us, for example, welcoming a President of the United States to talk about the infrastructure investments that we have done here, not in a swing state, not in a place that's on the top of every national news story, but in a place that's doing things right. And we'll keep working to do that in 2022."