Christopher Smith / The New York Times

Quinton Lucas, talking to a crowd in Kansas City, M.O. on May 19, 2019.

June 26, 2019

From Homeless to Mayor: Cornell Law Alumnus Elected Kansas City Mayor

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On June 18, Quinton Lucas J.D. ’09 was elected mayor of Kansas City, Missouri. Lucas, 34, ran on a platform focused on expanding affordable housing, improving healthcare in the community, and criminal justice reform. During his run for mayor, Lucas was endorsed by the local police department, fire department and teachers’ union.

Lucas beat his opponent, Jolie Justus, with an 18 percent margin. Both candidates are attorneys who served on the City Council of Kansas City, and although the mayoral election is nonpartisan, they both have said they consider themselves Democrats. Lucas, however, saw himself as the “underdog” in the campaign, according to his victory speech Tuesday night.

“This campaign has been a long one and a fun one and an arduous one but we have been every step of the way been somewhat like underdogs,” Lucas said during the speech. “They said, ‘How could you do it?’ We never had the most money, we never had the most popularity.”

Lucas was raised in Kansas City, and growing up his family experienced periods of homelessness. Living in a single parent family with his mother and two older sisters, Lucas once couch-surfed in his great aunt’s room in her nursing home.

Lucas scored a spot and a scholarship at Washington University, St. Louis, and graduated in political science with a degree in 2006. There, he said that an undergraduate academic integrity committee drove him towards the law, and he earned his J.D. from Cornell Law School in 2009.

After graduating from law school, Lucas returned home and eventually became a faculty member at the University of Kansas School of Law in 2012 teaching contracts, securities regulation and federal administration law according to his teaching profile.

Prior to law school, Lucas spent time working on a Missouri state senate campaign. After the intensity of the campaign trail, his experience at Cornell was “relaxing and refreshing,” according to an interview Lucas gave Cornell Law before graduation.

However, in another interview with The Kansas City Star, Lucas also revealed that he found Cornell “weird and fake” at first. Unlike some other law students whose fathers were partners at New York City law firms, Lucas didn’t even know the name of a single New York City law firm.

“You learn how to read efficiently and how to express yourself effectively,” Lucas said of his Ithaca experience to The Star. “You also learn that you’re smart, and that you’re really here for a reason.”

During law school, Lucas taught inmates constitutional law at Auburn Correctional Facility, a course which he later taught in the Kansas prison system as well. In his mayoral campaign Lucas advocated for criminal justice reform through mental health and addiction decriminalization as well as pardoning all stand-alone municipal marijuana convictions.

Now, a decade after graduating, Lucas will now be tasked with leading the nearly 500,000 residents in Kansas City, Missouri.

“No matter who you are, no matter where you are, no matter what circumstances you find yourselves in, in our Kansas City we always believe that you have an opportunity,” Lucas told the crowd after his win.