KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As Kansas City has grown, acclimated, and revitalized itself — changed its circumstances, even — so too has its new mayor throughout his life.
Unsurprisingly, Quinton Lucas has effortlessly glided into position at the helm of the City of Fountains. Lucas has that je ne sais quoi, that affability. He epitomizes the reemerging city.
Lucas’ story has not gone untold, and for good reason. He was raised by a single mother (he never met his father) in the Kansas City area, moving around often. At times growing up, Lucas was homeless.
Still, Lucas studied, attended a private school, and eventually graduated from Cornell University Law School. But despite his Ivy League education — and newfound proclivity for the East Coast — Lucas felt a pull, drawing him home to Missouri.
The general marriage between law and public service aside, Lucas’ entry into the world of politics was relatively quiet. He worked on the campaign for former Democratic state Sen. Jeff Smith, who represented some of the St. Louis area.
He also clerked for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, finding a mentor in Judge Duane Benton, a man appointed by former-President George W. Bush.
“I got to see almost a real bipartisan way of seeing things from him,” Lucas said. “He’s from southern Missouri, we’re both Baptists — just from different parts of the state — and that really got me to know more Republicans and people of all stripes in Missouri. I make no pretension of the fact that in my electoral coalition, I had a lot of support from Republicans, conservatives, and I’m proud of that.”
Benton remembers Lucas working for him — first as an intern and then as his so-called “elbow clerk,” meaning he was literally by the judge’s side as they poured over draft opinions, ensuring they had state and U.S. Supreme Court rulings correct and intents were clear.
“He was a great law clerk, bright, a good researcher,” Benton said. “He writes well, thinks well, and is able to take an objective view of a vast lot of issues, but he also understands when the Supreme Court has ruled, or other controlled courts have ruled, judges must follow.”
Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican farmer-turned-politician, has also praised Lucas, telling The Missouri Times: “He’s a great young man. He’s a great success story.”
For Lucas, 35, hitting the ground running as the city’s mayor wasn’t a difficult transition. Lucas was an “active” city councilman before the election, he said, having served on more committees than anyone else during his term. He joined the University of Kansas as a law professor — in fact, his campaign website boasted he’s “one of the youngest tenure-track” professors in the nation — and works still as an attorney for German May.
And he was well aware he would be coming at the job relying on his ability to navigate adversity.
“I think it’s fair to say Mayor Sly James and I did not have a particularly close relationship — and still do not — so I think I knew that lots of what I would start doing would be brand new stuff, not really picking up something my predecessor was doing,” Lucas said.
Sly, a fellow Democrat who recently launched a consulting firm with his former chief of staff, endorsed Lucas’ opponent in the race.
Lucas — affectionately dubbed “Mayor Q” — values transparency and questions. As the nation grapples with gun violence, Kansas City has not been immune to the epidemic — and Lucas isn’t afraid to question his own proposals as he works to crack down on the tragic deaths in his city.
One of the first acts as mayor was to champion an ordinance banning the possession of handguns for minors in Kansas City. He admitted questions arose about whether state law would preempt the city ordinance and was adamant about not rushing the process to make sure it was done right.
“I will always ask questions even if I’m gung-ho on a path,” Lucas said. “We’re not supposed to throw up laws that are terribly written or terrible guidance to the people of Kansas City. And that’s the sort of work I do.”
And as he leads Kansas City, Lucas remains critical of tax incentives for large corporations — a position he’s long held. He maintains they are “overused” and Kansas City has greater needs — road infrastructure and affordable housing, just to name a couple — that should take precedence.
“We have forgotten, I think, of our taxpayers and our tax base. Taxpayers approve levying increases on taxes because they want to make sure the roads are taken care of, the schools are good,” Lucas said. “What they’re not doing is saying we want to subsidize one-off economic development projects. I think before we’re redirecting tax revenues, we need to be very serious about taking care of everything we need to.”
“Before I’m thinking about debating people’s taxes, I need to tell people what I’ve delivered for them. And I think sometimes when we’re talking about economic development, we’re not actually thinking about that cost-benefit analysis before we’re approving things,” he added. “Because in some ways, the public wants that. We’re saying, ‘Hey, this thing will be great, I’m bringing stuff to town,’ as opposed to, ‘I did a good job.’ And maybe it’s the blessing of youth or something of that sort, but I’m happy to look at a record of eight years, if I’m lucky enough to get them, and say, ‘I did a great job.’”
Lucas is also turning his back on the Kansas City airport kerfuffle. He said he is not interested in disrupting the progress already made but will require more transparency as the project continues.
“My prayer for the airport is: It’s quiet, there’s not drama, and we can build an airport we can be proud of that delivers on some of the transformative workforce goals we’ve had for union labor and for minority and female representation on the project,” he said. “We owe it to the people of western Missouri and Kansas to deliver on a project that will be worthwhile.”
Even from his fandom of the Chiefs (particularly quarterback Patrick Mahomes), it’s clear Lucas loves Kansas City and is proud of the place he represents — especially its renaissance and strong relationships.
“I feel so positive about the culture of Kansas City. I think it’s forward-looking and optimistic, and I’m proud of that as far as our future goes,” Lucas said.
And with Mayor Q at the helm, forward is the only path for Kansas City.
Kaitlyn Schallhorn is a reporter with The Missouri Times. She joined the newspaper in March 2019 after working as a reporter for Fox News in New York City. Throughout her career, Kaitlyn has covered political campaigns across the U.S. and humanitarian aid efforts in Africa. She is a native of Missouri who studied journalism at Winthrop University in South Carolina. Contact Kaitlyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.