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Q&A with Quinton Lucas: 'I want to get to those solutions as soon as possible'

Posted at 7:33 PM, Jul 31, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-01 00:05:21-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Thursday, Mayor-elect Quinton Lucas will officially become the 55th mayor of Kansas City, Missouri.

As he gets ready to take over the office on the 29th floor of City Hall, 41 Action News anchor Christa Dubill sat down with him to find out how he's been preparing.

Below, read the extended version of their conversation.

ON THE CAMPAIGN

"It was different than I remember any mayoral race in my life time. And, you know it is always kind of interesting seeing yourself on television and people saying some bad things about you, but you build thick skin very quickly. And you realize that you have a message and a mission and a reason why you are doing things. And I am glad that the voters of Kansas City were not swayed by negativity. I think people wanted to know what we stood for, not how we can tear the other person down. And I wish frankly that the state and national politics followed that same path."

ON PREPARING FOR OFFICE

"Reading a lot. Ordinances, rules, and procedures and all of that to be sure we are ready to be as impactful as we can from day one."

"I am going to become a member of the Board of Police Commissioners, and so they have given me a lot of documents on crime in Kansas City, what we can do to try to enhance it."

"I think a lot of Kansas Citians recognize this is a year where we have had real violent crime issues. It’s a year where we continue to have issues with affordable housing. And I want to get to those solutions as soon as possible. It helps that I am currently on the city council so I know at least a decent amount of stuff, but I’m just doing as much reading, as many meetings, listening to advice from a number of folks."

ON THE ADVICE HE'S RECEIVED FROM FORMER MAYORS

"Former mayor Dick Burkley, [who] was mayor from 1979 to '91, reached out and sent me a very nice, what appeared to be almost a type-written letter, about all the things to do, and it was delightful. And I have managed to at least talk to through email all of our former mayors. Even Mark Funkhouser, when he was in town for the book deal with his wife, gave some advice. And you know right now I am trying to figure out which advice to take, which advice not to, but more than anything making sure I am listening. Because I realize that I am not the only one with solutions for the future of Kansas City."

"To listen. I think there is this inclination in politics to just kind of say I know the answers and just come up with a quick solution. Or, if a reporter like yourself asks me about something, to say this is the answer and I am going to stick with it and that’s about it. I think it’s a little harder to say, you know I need to think about it. I need to think about what the best approach is. And in Kansas City, Missouri we have a few issues like that right now. We have a question about the future of our jail. And are we going to have a deal with Jackson County, or will there be a separate Kansas City, Missouri, one? And I think before we spend an excess of a 100 million taxpayer dollars we need to figure that out. I think in housing and in workforce development, there are a lot of great ideas, I have some. But really trying to see what’s best. So, I think the best advice I have heard be far is to listen. And to make sure that you are trying to understand what is the best solution for the future."

AND FROM SLY JAMES?

"The best advice he gave me was actually when I was a city councilman, I’ll answer it with that then also give you a current answer of what is best I’ve heard lately. When I first got elected he told me - and I am younger than him by a little bit - he said, 'You know, son, the best thing you can do is recognize that it is a lot easier to say no than it is to get to yes.' And I think when you get in government, it's very easy particularly with our kind of oppositional politics we have these days, for people to say 'Well, that’s a stupid idea,' and, 'No, I’m against that.' It kind of builds that force against it. It's harder to say, 'How can I make it better?' How can I say, 'Alright, I know where you are coming from, but maybe the better solution is this or that'. And so my view is that really figuring out how we can get from just being in a 'no' position to being in a 'yes' position is going to be the thing that makes a big difference for us long-term in Kansas City."

RELATED: Mayor Sly James reflects on triumphs, one failure that 'still stings'

ON PRE-K IN KC

"You know, I think we heard from the public back in the spring about maybe we don’t want to go that path in early childhood education, with the city paying for and running it. But what we didn’t say was, we don’t care about it. So, what can we do to make sure that we can get to a yes? And how we can support early childhood education, support families in Kansas City, and frankly, perhaps support workforce training? You know, education for people of all ages. And so those are the sorts of things I want to get to and Mayor James gave me that advice from the start."

"I think more recently, you know he said, what was it? 'You can’t make everybody happy'. And he has not been as worried about that lately as some. I think what I will try to be all my time in office, is somebody who — I’ll be friendly, but I will also have disagreements. That is what I have been like on the city council, in my life as a lawyer, and that is something I am proud of doing as mayor."

ON HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENTS

"Frankly, I’ve been closely aligned with the superintendents for years now. That kind of started from the fact that I had supported incentive reform. A lot of our TIFs, our tax breaks, property tax abatements, all of that, divert money that would otherwise go to our public schools, and it’s been significant. And it’s not just a Kansas City Public Schools issue. It's Liberty, Blue Springs. It's Independence,. It's Grandview. And it’s my view that we need to work with them on a number of issues, not just kind of the school-type stuff, but the other things that are impacting their budgets long term. And so I’ve been proud to build great connections, not just with Mark Bedell at KCPS, but also all the superintendents in our area. I was, in the campaign, supported by the American Federation of Teachers. And so, the education community is a group I look forward to working with closely."

ON SCHOOLS

"In Kansas City, Missouri it's about how we create as many opportunities as possible for a family to stay, right? There are lots of people who ask the question of 'Well, what am I supposed to do when my kids get older?' And, 'I am not satisfied with the schools that are in my neighborhood.' So, I think it is important that we work with charters, we work with our traditional public schools, and we work with our parochial schools, frankly, to make sure that we have enough good options for people who want to stay in Kansas City, who want to support our neighborhoods. Get that quality of life that you can have from being in good, walkable neighborhoods that we have throughout Kansas City, Missouri."

"But also, I think we want to make sure that the schools are quality, and I look forward to working with them on that. I don’t know if it is just a south of the river issue. You know, North Kansas City School District - our largest school district, actually, within the boundaries of Kansas City, Missouri - deals with a lot of different issues, from children who speak a number of different languages, to free and reduced lunch population that’s more sizeable than many people know. And I want to make sure we’re there as a supporter for all of them."

ON THE NORTHLAND

"I love the Northland! They, on election night, it was fun because we did much better up there than a lot of people expected. It made it a much faster night. You know, I think what I learned is this: We are dealing with the same issues throughout different parts of Kansas City. We’re all dealing with the same issues. We want to make sure we have safe neighborhoods, good schools, new jobs. Right? People that can get paid well at those jobs. And, frankly, the people have a community they can be proud of. And they like living in them."

ON GO BONDS FOR ROAD RECONSTRUCTION, NOT NEW ROADS

"I plan to fully stick with that. There is a news story that came up this week, this Google data center project in the Northland. Interesting! Exciting! Then there was somebody saying, 'See Quinton? You were against that road.' I wasn’t against the road as much as I was against funding source for it, because that was a new road expansion project, and we used GO bonds for it - $9 million of that. And so that $9 million that was not spent on reconstruction. Nine million not spent to fix up one of these roads in the core of our city, or in the Northland, frankly, that we had real issues on last winter. I think we need to make sure we’re just delivering on the promises we made to voters. You know, we told people existing infrastructure, existing roads. That’s what we need to fix and that is something I plan to stick with."

ON AFFORDABLE HOUSING TRUST FUND

"We currently collect $10 million a year on our $0.08 sales tax for the Eastside of Kansas City. One question is, how are we spending that? How can we better leverage that for housing? We get $8 million a year for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. What can we do to make sure that its going clearly to housing, not just the urban development? All of a sudden you looking at, you know, you won’t spend all the money but you are looking at something like $10million that’s identified that could be better spent on these resources."

ON FUNDING SOCIAL WORKER PROGRAM IN POLICE DEPARTMENT

"What I wanted to do is permanently fund it. They are still contract employees and so really getting them in a consistent line item to make sure the program doesn’t go away. Too often in government we have these great programs that exist for a while and then everybody says, 'What happened?' And sometimes programs do need to go away. However, this is one that has been incredibly helpful. It’s speaks to 21st century style policing, which isn’t just arresting people. It isn’t just kind of doing a show of force. It’s really trying to make a difference in communities."

ON GETTING KANSAS CITY OFF THE MOST DANGEROUS CITIES LIST

"We’ve been on it too long. I mean, I am not the oldest man, and so for my entire life there have been some constants in Kansas City: the high homicide rate, the high violent crime rate. Frankly, some of the trash issues. I know there’s a kind of a different trash pickup issue, but the illegal dumping issue that impacts a lot of neighborhoods. I would like to see those change. I don’t want somebody waking up 34, 35 years from now and saying we’ve got all the same stuff. It’s a challenge. It’s unacceptable."

ON SPENDING MORE ON LOCAL MENTAL HEALTH TREATMENT

"I think the way you do that in your first year is through the city budget that we will adopt in the spring. And I do plan to call for, and I think we do have the council votes to support, increasing our funding to mental health services. Also, to indigent healthcare services, like Truman Medical Center, Samuel Rogers Health Center, Children’s Mercy. I think we have a health levy and that’s what voters expect us to fund. And by the way, I will say one other thing — these are things I think we can do without tax increases."

ON TAX INCREASES

"I do not like tax increases. I know there are already some conversations about 'Do we need them for pensions?' Those sorts of issues. But what I think we’ve done too much of lately in Kansas City — not in just the last eight years or the last 20 — is every time we’ve seen a problem we say, 'Well, there's got to be a tax to cure it.' And right now we’ve got a significant both tax burden and rate burden through utilities for a lot of our folks in Kansas City. I would like to avoid that, and I think all of these solutions need to at least start with this idea of we’re not going to look to go back to the taxpayers, instead we are going to use the money we have now."

ON A CITY HALL LIAISON FOR HOUSING HELP

"I think the question is where is that city hall liaison and what do they do exactly? My view still is, I like to invest more in Legal Aid of Western Missouri and those types of resources that tenants can use to get out of a troubling lease or, alternatively, if there are habitability issues in their homes where you’ve got windows that don’t work, you have rodent infestations, you have all those issues. So, I think to the extent that we’re saying liaison I would probably want to pay for services that help do that as opposed to having a new guy or gal at city hall just waiting by the phone like a Maytag repairman - hoping that people actually call them. Because in terms of service, delivery, and local government, one of the biggest challenges with all the other governments too, isn’t that we don’t have people who can do these things or we don’t have good programs. Often it’s people don’t know anything about it."

"And if you're somebody who is working your tail off, and let’s say you are a young mom with several kids or something, you don’t have time to sit and watch either the local government channel or go through the city website for all of these things, but you may need help instantly. And I want to make sure that we’re using more efforts to actually reach out to people to fix these things, as opposed to just saying, 'Hey look, we’ve got it.' You know, let’s do something with it."

ON PARDONING SOME MARIJUANA OFFENDERS

"That's one of the easier ones to do. You know, the pardon exists in the city charter. I plan to work on that as soon as I am mayor. In 2017, the voters of Kansas City by about three-to-one margin passed what is, in essence, decriminalization of marijuana, at least a small amount. And so, if you're basically [using for] personal consumption, a small possessor, we said we don’t think that should be an offense in the same way that any number of other things are. I think that the pardoning power that is with that is really just catching up to it and saying to all those people who have the misfortune of being caught for these offenses prior to 2017, who run with that stigma on their records when they are speaking to employers in any number of things, need a new second chance. And I think a lot of people can tell the difference between a big-time drug trafficker who would not be subject to this versus a minor marijuana user who was smoking a joint somewhere and got caught and a ticket for it. And that is the sort of change we want and that is absolutely something I plan to stick to."

ON INCENTIVES FOR DEVELOPERS

"What we need to change from is seeing incentives as just real-estate tax breaks. And instead, channeling incentives more to how many jobs you are creating. Is this a new industry sector? Frankly, supporting entrepreneurs in more situations. The story of the American city these days is that you don’t have giant factories that are opening up necessarily in our cities any more. You don’t have one big employer being a Hallmark or anything of that sort that will just give jobs to everyone. What, instead, we need to do is continue to grow small business in our economy. And so, I absolutely think that the way we use incentive tools needs to better reflect that reality in society. As opposed to just a classic, 'Hey, you need a bunch of land, we’ll give you a bunch of tax breaks and maybe that will work out for us.'"

ON HIS PERFECT DAY OFF WORK

"Me hiding my phone. Because they can track us down and ruin a good day off. I run without music, without anything, it’s just me. You know, kind of experiencing life. So, a perfect day off would start with that. I‘ve gotten into kayaking kind of randomly. And I guess I have to have something that isn’t just active at a certain point. So I eat. I get to have a real conversation with my friends."

ON HIS TYPICAL DAY

"Wake up at 4 a.m., then usually respond to emails. I'm a Kansas Citian, so I like my different barbecues. I will not pick a favorite because I know that's sacrilege. A place that I love to go to is Grinders. It's down the street from me on 18th Street. Everybody should check it out. I like Grinders and I'll be fair to KCK, I love Gus's Fried Chicken. I'm trying to develop a more sophisticated palate; it's just not there yet."

ON WHAT MIGHT SURPRISE PEOPLE ABOUT HIM

"I unplugged my refrigerator I use it so rarely. I know my mother would be so angry. I'm trying to be environmental and I was looking at my utility bill and realized, 'Man, there's a lot on here for someone who is never home.' I don't have food in the house."