Coronavirus Report: The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews Mayor Quinton Lucas

The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews Kansas City, Mo., Mayor Quinton Lucas.

Read excerpts from the interview below.


Clemons: What does getting back to a healthy community look like? 

Lucas: So I've had the fortune of being mayor now for a grand total of about 10 months, and we have dealt with on the positive side, a Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl victory and a parade, and then we had COVID. And certainly we've had protests since. I think what we have to make sure we do whenever you're looking to that North Star is how is it that we can continue to address underlying issues of equality. I think when I was running for mayor, and certainly in my months that I have been mayor, that's always been center to it. And so even as we were thinking about our COVID-related policies, it wasn't so much merely looking to the science, although that's very important. But it's also looking at things like, How do we distribute masks to enough people in the public? How do we make sure when we look at hospital resources they're evenly available and shared throughout our community? And certainly as we look to this protest moment, it has continued to be, how can we handle more equitably so many of the issues that challenge us in the city each day? So that's the work that we've done. It has been made more difficult through any number of varying issues, but at the same time, it's the work that we have to meet now. And I'll say there's an additional challenge that you mentioned in your introduction, which is what happens when, regardless of your political viewpoint, Washington is paralyzed, perhaps by a very different conversation. And your state capitals may have one different as well. Here in Kansas City, certainly in Missouri, we've been able to have while a positive relationship with our governor. He's a Republican, Mike Parson. We've also been able to say, “Well, we're gonna take a different approach.”


Clemons: What has the reopening process for you down there look like?

Lucas: So with reopening, I think we look to a few important things. One was that we agree contact tracing is essential. It really is a transition from our stay-at-home orders, all of those kinds of bars on consumer and individual activity, to how do we cope with COVID, right? How do we coexist with COVID? And so our policy pretty much from the beginning of May here in Kansas City has been knowing that we will be reopening. What types of things can we do that help underscore the fact that we will still have COVID around as part of that has included contact tracing. If you go to a restaurant in Kansas City and dining in, they will likely take down your name, your phone number. That's more to be able to contact you in the event of an outbreak. In connection with our public health department, making sure that as we're looking to use CARES Act funding, almost all of it so far, has gone to the health department's ability to do more testing, to do more tracing. We've tried to make sure, in as many situations as we can, we're removing the political debate from it, right? My job is not responding to whatever the president tweeted that day. It is instead to actually say “All right, how do I make sure that I could get as many people tested as possible?” How can I make sure that, for example, populations that are in factories; there's a meatpacking plant about an hour northwest of Kansas City that has a heavy Latino population. That population by and large lived in Kansas City. That's why we've taken efforts to make sure that we're creating testing opportunities for those not just of the plant, but also for folks that may be living in neighborhoods that have a high population of plant employees. It's those types of on the ground, everyday opportunities that we're taking that we think are helping us embrace this crisis. Still, at this point, although we've seen an increase recently in infections, we're still below 30 fatalities, which in a city of this size is something that is impressive for us.


Clemons: There's not a lot of discussion of what details would help people understand when social justice exists and when it doesn't. How do you approach that? 

Lucas: You know, I have said a few times there was a large kind of protest-rally-gathering on the steps of City Hall in Kansas City on Friday, and they invited me to make remarks and they didn't move me out of the place. So something is working. But during my remarks, "I said the revolution will not be televised," and I have said that a lot of times. Because we recognize that the revolution itself may not be the moment in which the press has its cameras on protests and energy and tears and all that, but instead it's going to be in City Council meetings weeks from now. It's going to be in police board meetings weeks from now. It's going to be everybody taking those steps to say what is the concrete change we need to make? And I think there are a few key steps no matter where you are in the country where it's essential. One, it's decriminalizing poverty, which has continued to disproportionately incarcerate young, black men. Another key step in that is making sure that we have adequate treatment for mental health, right? Rather than just talking about what defunding the police may mean, let's actually talk about what it is that we want to proactively fund and support, right? We shouldn't actually just build things from a negative, and I think I have some fear right now that that's the social moment we're in. Instead, what we need to say is, “Well, how do we actually make sure we have good, strong, sustained investments in mental health? How do we make sure we have sustained investments and alternatives to incarceration? How do we make sure that we at least modify, remove, eliminate the war on drugs in our country, which in many ways has been an abject failure?”


Clemons: Are you getting the resources you need from the federal government?

Lucas: The federal government is not there for us. And I say that with respect to an outstanding set of senators I have, Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntRepublicans embrace Trump in effort to reclaim Senate GOP attorneys general group in turmoil after Jan. 6 Trump rally Senate GOP keeps symbolic earmark ban MORE, Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyHillicon Valley: Trump's Facebook ban to stay in place, board rules | Facebook board's Trump decision pleases no one | Republicans float support for antitrust reform Republicans float support for antitrust reform after Trump Facebook ban upheld Hawley says Cheney 'spiraling,' 'out-of-step' amid Trump backlash MORE, Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranBottom line Hawley votes against anti-Asian hate crime bill Senate passes anti-Asian hate crimes bill MORE from Kansas have been helpful to us as well. And certainly my congresspeople, Emanuel Cleaver and Sam GravesSamuel (Sam) Bruce GravesHillicon Valley: DOJ to review cyber challenges | Gaetz, House Republicans want to end funding for postal service surveillance | TikTok gets new CEO Push for infrastructure gas-tax hike loses steam Biden turns focus to next priority with infrastructure talks MORE, all outstanding people working for us as best they can. But I think to the extent you've seen relief go to the American city, it's gone to much larger American cities like New York, certainly needing it, and some others, like Los Angeles, that certainly isn't impacted the same level of New York City. But there are a lot of cities that are in the middle in terms of size and geography — Atlanta, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Kansas City, St. Louis — that certainly will have very significant challenges, not only given our own populations, but also that we're regional centers in a number of states like this one — Missouri, Ohio, Georgia. And we could see more help and support that actually recognizes the number of vital institutions, health care institutions that are in our cities, the very significant public safety, public health demands that we have and the fact that when people get sick in our state, Missouri, they often come to a place like Kansas City or St. Louis. We don't have that support now. That's not unusual. We will continue to do the work that we can from a local level, from local funding support. You know, our city probably somewhat unusually passed a sales tax increase a week ago because we recognize long term public safety and public health needs. We will run out of local tax revenue at a certain point. I would love to have federal government support and backing for that. But we won't hold our breath here in Kansas City. 


Clemons: When you look at the future of Kansas City as an area, what are the things that are going to drive you positively out of the current turmoil? What are the next projects?

Lucas: You know, there are a few different ones. The first is actually making sure that we handle this crisis well, right? Public health is good economic development. I think if there is somebody who is looking at how Kansas City responds to crisis now, they would see that we acted very quickly and aggressively. We issued some of our stay-at-home orders, the same time the city of New York did, although we had thousands fewer cases at the time, and by the way, that was not politically easy. Although I'm from a majority Democratic city, being in the middle of one red state and next to another one creates a significant challenge. But I think we're active and proactive, and people should see that. Another very real and I think important issue for us is that we're making sure, as we look at our protest movement now, that we're having significant and substantial conversations about race, how we can have greater equity in our policing, how we can make sure that we're working on better equitable economic development long term. It may not surprise you that I ran for mayor of Kansas City because I have an unyielding faith in the future of the midsize American city. I think markets like ours are poised for the future. Where you're seeing evaluations from people in places like New York or Washington or Los Angeles, that are asking questions about what's the future of the American city? I think you see the future of the American city here. A place that is of a manageable size, but one also where you were able to have good, strong economic development, where you have good access to products and travel to other regions, but also frankly, where we are able to still have, I think, a good relationship with our public, such that our stay-at-home orders were closely followed, such that we are continuing to have the respect of school leadership from around our region and how we do it. And, frankly, where we have political efficiency that allows for expedient steps rather than political quagmires and stalemates that keep us from being able to act.


Clemons: What do people want to see at this moment in the election cycle? And what do they need to express their own political choice?

Lucas: So, I think a few things that we're finally recognizing to our credit, even in a conservative state like Missouri, we have made it easier to vote by mail. Not having a notary requirement on absentee ballots is gonna be important for us. So I think in all of our states we need to continue to make sure that voting is more accessible. I think the presidential election will be an important point for all of us. I think the public will want its voice heard. I will say, actually, it's almost more about the rhetoric that we're in right now, and so I would encourage everyone — I was actually heartened the other day by the vice president's statement that he doesn't fully support defunding the police, but is looking for opportunities for reform. We need to make sure that we're having substantive policy debates. Sometimes I think back to the 2000 election, which was one of the first ones that actually I followed fairly closely, and I remember chats about Social Security lockbox, immigration reform, those sorts of meaty issues. They weren't just about what drama happened last week. We need to continue to focus on that I think for our country to be in a better position, whether you're voting from the right or the left in connection with that. I think as we look to voting, we need to make sure that it continues to be more accessible and that all of us in leadership are making opportunities for voting frankly safer, right? In Kansas City, our recent election that I mentioned earlier, more voting was done in big gyms where there was potential for social distancing. We're going to have to make sure we allow that as well.