“Every politician of all time will say, ‘I support incentives in the poorest areas,’” he said in an interview. “The distinction is, after a while, to support incentives in the poorest areas, you have to not support them in the nicer areas.”
Mr. Lucas’s plan includes investing in housing rehabilitation and affordable housing units, and offering incentives to developers to step out of their downtown comfort zone and build on the East Side, where limited investment has only hastened problems of poverty and crime over the years.
“I want to make sure that we’re actually spending time focusing on how we build up our communities first,” Mr. Lucas, who is black and from the East Side, told a group of mostly black East Side business leaders during a meeting one recent morning. “I don’t say our community just because it’s ours. But I think it’s because it’s the core of the city. If you don’t have a strong inner city, then you run into problems.”
For Ms. Justus, his opponent, who is white, the scale of the East Side’s problems became clear during a neighborhood walk with a fellow council member and a community leader. They turned down a desolate street bounded by thick, unruly trees and brush and saw the detritus of illegal dumping and homeless encampments scattered everywhere — red plastic cups, a water heater, a torn sofa. At another corner, Ms. Justus pointed to an empty corner lot with high grass and a view of the downtown skyline.
“What would make this pop faster is if a whole bunch of people lived here,” she said.
Ms. Justus said she would appoint a deputy mayor for neighborhoods and would periodically run city hall for a time out of community centers in different neighborhoods. She said she would also consider tax abatements for new construction in distressed neighborhoods, and a cap on residential property taxes so that people are not taxed out of their homes. Investing in job training was important as well, she said.
“We will not be able to address the systemic issues, the infrastructure woes, if we don’t also continue to increase our population base, our median income,” she said. “We have to be very intentional about making sure that that happens in every neighborhood.”
Part of the challenge in Kansas City is how diffuse the population is. Its population of nearly a half-million residents is spread across a land area about the size of New York City, which has 17 times as many inhabitants.