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Worthy candidates seldom have labored so intensely for political powers not expressly existing.

The Little Rock mayor's race ends today, subject to a runoff if no one gets 40 percent. It closes with wide discussion of one issue the candidates could do nothing about and equally wide discussion of a second issue they could influence only by presumptuousness.

The five candidates--three of them serious--have appeared at dozens of community forums to account to citizens patiently and graciously. Yet the selection of a police chief to replace the newly departing one--at a time when The Washington Post hammers Little Rock with alarming accusations and revelations of racism and corruption in its police department--is formally the responsibility of the police chief's direct boss. That would be the largely invisible city manager. His decision would be subject to the consent of the policy board of which the mayor is the presiding member.

A bold mayor presumptuously could interject himself to try to hire or influence the hiring of a police chief rather than merely consent. One of them, Warwick Sabin, has already indicated that would be his intent.

Meantime, many in the community obsess appropriately on lingering state control of the Little Rock public schools. They focus for the moment on state Education Commissioner Johnny Key's attempt to weaken the teachers' union by leveraging the authority to fire some local teachers--those laboring in low-performing schools--without adhering to the teacher protections of the fair dismissal law.

The issue has reared its head in the mayoral context although the mayor has nothing to do with the public schools beyond advocating from a bully pulpit.

Sabin started all this. The young Democratic state representative got the idea to challenge incumbent Mark Stodola and seek to elevate the mayor's role beyond expressed authority. Frank Scott--the young former Mike Beebe aide and highway commissioner--had the same idea. Then Stodola bowed out. Establishment friends of the departing mayor who had resented Sabin's affront prevailed on Baker Kurrus, the heroic and martyred school superintendent who was itching to run for something, to get in the race.

The prevailing narrative has been that Little Rock is fortunate to have three stellar and hard-to-distinguish choices. But differences eventually became clear between Sabin and Kurrus.

Take the police issue. Two weeks ago, The Washington Post broke a story about a pattern of abusive no-knock police warrants targeting African Americans on drug suspicion based on tips from a dubious informant and producing no or scant evidence.

Sabin--consistently the first to address issues, and the strongest and clearest in the way he addresses them--instantly called for an independent investigation and said Little Rock had to fight crime, yes, but couldn't do so by behaving unlawfully itself.

Kurrus, in the process of courting the endorsement of the Fraternal Order of Police, put out an odd and meaningless statement about the esoterica of an internal fact-finding process.

Then, when the Post came back Friday with a follow-up about racially abusive police practices and coverups, Sabin again responded forcefully to reiterate his call for an investigation. Kurrus, by then in possession of the endorsement of the group assailed in nationwide reporting, was quiet.

They're fine men, Sabin and Kurrus. But one is about a new direction and the other about being a better Stodola.

Meantime, some Kurrus supporters have taken a shot at the end at Sabin for voting as a legislator for an omnibus education bill in 2017 that, among myriad provisions affecting the public-school accountability system, included authority to waive the teacher fair dismissal process in certain cases.

State Sen. Joyce Elliott of Little Rock--who ought to be mayor, or education commissioner, or governor--testified at the time to raise questions and concerns about more than a dozen provisions. She made a social media post Friday reminding of those concerns.

She told me Saturday she was "gobsmacked" by anyone's trying to say that she was even implying any criticism of Sabin. She said she mainly was irked at Key for making public pronouncements while teachers were abiding by his request to make no public comment while negotiating.

Sabin told me his vote was a practical one on a wide-ranging bill that in no way suggested he was anything less than a full supporter of Little Rock's public schools.

If one wanted to cherry-pick votes, Kurrus' long tenure on the local school board might provide a ripe opportunity. But, remember, the mayor has nothing non-rhetorically to do with the public schools.

Sabin as a redefining mayor and Kurrus as a reinstated superintendent of a locally restored district--that might be a smart deployment of local talent.

I shouldn't get so engrossed in the Sabin-Kurrus bickering that I forget the able and amiable Scott, potentially a history-maker as the city's first popularly elected black mayor, which would be a good thing.

------------v------------

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 11/06/2018

Print Headline: Much ado over not much

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  • drs01
    November 6, 2018 at 7:33 a.m.

    The title of this op-ed defines what I've been thinking for months. Furthermore, this decision on replacing Buckner is "formally the responsibility of his direct boss" the city manager as you have stated. The role of the mayor in this process is limited. The same can be said of the current LRSD cluster. So is this mayor race essentially "much ado over not much"? I believe it is. We will not see real progress in this city until we decide on the type of government we want. A functional mayor or continuing with a largely ceremonial one who will talk the talk but can't walk the walk.
    I voted early for the one candidate who has the experience to do the job as it is defined lawfully. The other candidate you mentioned is blowing a lot of hot air implying he can do something that we all know he can't.
    Ironically, by the time this is read, the voters may have already decided.

  • RBear
    November 6, 2018 at 7:42 a.m.

    "They're fine men, Sabin and Kurrus. But one is about a new direction and the other about being a better Stodola." That sums up the race nicely, John. Sabin is about a new vision for the city, not more of the same as drs likes to promote. It's time for the city to make some significant changes and that includes changing the structure of government, getting rid of the city manager and at-large directors.
    ...
    That sets the stage for even greater opportunity of enacting the policies of those elected by the citizens. Up to this point, the board has really done nothing innovative and spends more time bickering over insignificant issues. I've read drs's continual "same old same old" comments over the past months and quite frankly he's just as much of the problem as others.
    ...
    In some ways, I think Kurrus is being pushed by this group to walk the same old walk. These people, most of which are Republicans or old Stodola supporters, prefer Little Rock to remain as it has been for decades, slowly declining each year. I think Kurrus has some innovative ideas, but is trapped in an administrative mindset. In some ways, Kurrus would make a good city manager. The only challenge with that if Sabin were elected mayor would be the clash of egos on issues after such a strong mayoral race.

  • drs01
    November 6, 2018 at 8:04 a.m.

    RBear - "It's time for the city to make some significant changes and that includes changing the structure of government". Isn't that exactly what I've been saying for months. Unless there has been some change in the laws, this action would require voter approval. So, a mayor candidate who "has a vision" had better clean his glasses if he expects to effect change by edict or example.Otherwise, we wait another 4 years and $1 million before the voters decide. Whomever the next mayor is, I do hope he will see this city as 7 wards, not 1 as has been the focus for too long. That is getting OLD.

  • GeneralMac
    November 6, 2018 at 8:27 a.m.

    Does John Brummett's strong endorsement of Sabin carry as much clout as his strong endorsement of Clarke Tucker ?..........SARC

    Does RBear's strong endorsement of Sabin carry as much clout as his strong endorsement for Clarke Tucker ?.......SARC

    Clarke Tucker/Nancy Pelosi

  • RBear
    November 6, 2018 at 8:29 a.m.

    Drs where do you think that change starts? Putting Kurrus in the position of mayor dooms any chance of change. The mayor starts the process of a ballot initiative that DOESN’T take four years to vote on. Ballot initiatives can occur at any time and do not have to wait until the next municipal election. Do your research on that.

  • Dontsufferfools
    November 6, 2018 at 10:59 a.m.

    The city council and mayor have plenty of authority, including the most important policy tool: The budget. Taxes aren't easy to talk about, but our nation's most successful cities are willing to raise and spend the money necessary to create the infrastructure and amenities that fuel growth. Little Rock needs leadership on the revenue front. What we have is a council that mostly sits around and counts pennies to ensure that the same number of pennies are spent here as there. Meanwhile, our sewers overflow in our parks and have done so for decades. Our boulevards are weedy and unattractive. Our main bicycle trail along the river has a broken link that's mysteriously an intractable problem for city hall. Our parks staff can't keep up with maintenance, etc., etc. Let's invest in Little Rock, and reap the returns.

  • hah406
    November 6, 2018 at 11:40 a.m.

    The change has to start with we the citizens of LR changing our form of city government. We need a strong mayor + city council form of government. Eliminate this unelected city manager middle man. Fortunately, in the election for mayor today, we have three fine candidates, each of which I believe would do a great job.

  • Rightside
    November 6, 2018 at 2:47 p.m.

    A former spokesperson for the Arkansas Democratic Party is behind bars this morning on a charge of child pornography possession and distribution.
    HL Moody was booked into the Pulaski County Jail just before 1 a.m. Tuesday. According to jail records, he was arrested by U.S. Marshals.

  • RBear
    November 6, 2018 at 5:30 p.m.

    Rightside I guess you're lost. That article is in another section of the D-G. This is about the mayoral race. Maybe someone should show you how to navigate a website.

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