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The runoff for mayor of Little Rock could be at least as interesting as the first go-round, which proved nigh unto fascinating.

Round One was complicated. Strong plurality winner Frank Scott got 37 percent while utterly defying compartmentalizing.

He was a change agent who had establishment bona fides. He had a natural base of support from fellow African Americans and from the disadvantaged sections of town. But he was a banker, former highway commissioner and Mike Beebe aide who benefited from those lofty associations. He ran both to champion the black community and preach unity citywide. He was a socially conservative pastor--not trusted as a strong advocate by the gay community--but he enjoyed the vocal endorsement of the liberal lioness of Arkansas, state Sen. Joyce Elliott.

Does Scott now stand to consolidate the prevailing vote for change by picking up the better part of third-place Warwick Sabin's strong 28 percent? Will that overpower his runoff combatant, Baker Kurrus, who edged Sabin by a few hundred votes and is establishmentarian to the extent that he is favored by leading members of the City Board of Directors and old friends of the outgoing mayor, Mark Stodola?

Or will the midtown progressives who supported Sabin--and who will vote from responsibility even if lacking particular motivation over the runoff choice--find themselves more naturally inclined to Kurrus? Will they ally more instinctively with his noble school superintendent's service than with Scott's socially conservative views? Will they find Kurrus the more pragmatic and conventionally experienced choice?

I'm only asking questions. This is an entirely new kind of political competition in a city that has not before seen these dynamics presenting themselves directly and citywide at the ballot box. I obviously don't have the answers. I'm seeking them.

I missed this story.

I spent most of my words in the first go-round analyzing the progressive white community's conflict over the choice of Kurrus and Sabin. I found that a ripe subject, and it was, though only secondarily.

With the exception of one column that perhaps began to address Scott's essence, I tended to refer to him only by the way as an also-formidable contender whom I should be careful to keep in mind, even as I didn't.

Still now, my instinct for the runoff is geographic, meaning racial and stereotypical. It is to say that Scott runs from a part of town on the east and south sides and Kurrus runs from another part of town on the west side, and that they will now compete for the in-between in a city arranged neatly for that kind of battleground.

It is to figure that white will outnumber black in a city starkly divided by white and black.

But Little Rock might be more admirably complicated than that, and Frank Scott surely is.

While Sabin's and Kurrus' supporters devolved during the campaign to sniping at each other, Scott stayed above it and about his business.

He told me early he could win without a runoff, and he got closer to the 40 percent threshold than I figured any of the three contenders could.

I thought Scott grandstanded once during the campaign, but now I wonder.

When The Washington Post unveiled its extensive reporting about police misconduct and apparent corruption in Little Rock, Kurrus gave a muted city-establishment response. Sabin gave a bold response that Scott, it seemed to me, felt a need to match and exceed when he sent a letter to the federal Justice Department asking for a civil rights investigation.

The Trump administration, as you might expect, is already on record wanting to curb the Obama administration's tendency to instigate civil rights investigations of local police misconduct.

But there are people in the city who doubt the credibility of conventional local leadership to address such allegations openly and objectively. It is possible Scott was addressing that distrust when he appeared to me merely to be grandstanding. It was his job to represent, not concede pre-emptively to the racial insensitivity of the Trump administration.

Scott's representation of historic distrust was no doubt a factor Tuesday. It's possible that he's a natural change agent more than a tactical one.

I was impressed, for example, when he defended his support for the 30 Crossing project.

He told me no one needed to talk to him about the economic and racial divisions a freeway can cause, considering that his mom was displaced by the Mills Freeway decades ago. He said he'd made sure as a highway commissioner that the Interstate 30 project would treat no one that way.

Thus, Scott could speak rarely, both from the direct experience of race disadvantage and a position of influence as a former highway commissioner. He might offer a candidacy that both signals comfort to the Chamber of Commerce and extends hope to the understandably distrustful.

That's pretty much what Little Rock needs. Scott has until Dec. 4 to solidify the case.


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

Editorial on 11/08/2018

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  • Packman
    November 8, 2018 at 9:36 a.m.

    The race is pretty much black and white, literally. It's a given 99% of the black vote will go to Scott. It's also a given a majority of the white vote will go to Kurrus. The race will boil down to how many white voters Scott can peel from Sabin's total. Odds are it will be enough to elect Scott, which isn't a bad thing at all. If Kurrus wins it will only prove there are substantial numbers of racists residing in the Heights and Hillcrest.

  • drs01
    November 8, 2018 at 10:24 a.m.

    I disagree Pack, there are a substantial numbers of HYPOCRITES residing in the Heights and Hillcrest; but saying that a Kurrus vote is a racist vote is a little over the top.If that's the case, then a 99% black vote for Scott would qualify for the same. It would seem you are suggesting that qualifications and executive experience mean nothing when a man of color is opposed by a white person. What was it MLK said about judging a person? Hopefully no one will try to make this run off about race. That would be counterproductive to what Frank Scott is trying to accomplish regarding UNITY.But something tells me it will end up being as you have stated; not publicly spoken, but quietly decided in the safety of the voting booth.

  • Morebeer
    November 8, 2018 at 5:46 p.m.

    I attended one of the debates and paid close attention to this race and voted for Kurrus. He seemed to understand that the budget is the city's main policy statement, and I got the impression he didn't see the office as a steppingstone to another political race. Unfortunately, his only chance of winning is if there is poor turnout among Scott's Nov. 6 voters. Kurrus is seen as too conservative for many of Sabin's supporters (so they'll vote for the Baptist preacher/banker, go figure). Even if he peels off half of them, it's not enough, unless turnout is low.

  • LR1955
    November 8, 2018 at 8:44 p.m.

    First, I can’t believe there’s only 3 comments. Is this foretelling of how the LR voters will participate in the mayor run-off ?
    There are lots of concerns in Little Rock. Crime, police, homeless, the schools, budget, racial divide, and on and on. The new mayor will be part of the new LRPD Chief selection and maybe that will take care of a couple of the concerns. Racial divide, I think the majority of the black & white people respect each other but the extreme ends (like the 2 political parties) like to keep it stirred up. I think we’ve got the money, it just hasn’t been spent in the right places. So my concerns are homeless & schools. Which of the 2 can figure out how to get our schools turned loose from the state control and if that happens, can we get together a decent school board and hire good superintendent and support that person. I voted for Kurrus but I might switch to Scott in the runoff. He’s young and has the energy to make the changes we need.

  • Morebeer
    November 8, 2018 at 10:40 p.m.

    The school district is independent of city hall. The mayor and board have no say in how the schools are run. Sure, they can urge the state to relinquish control, but what makes anyone think that will make the schools better. They were taken over for a reason: poor achievement.

  • Packman
    November 8, 2018 at 11:13 p.m.

    Hey drs - So, a white person can vote for another white person when their opponent is black and not be a racist? Really? Libs say it only happens because of racism. Are you saying there may reasons other than racism???? Who’s going to break the news to John Brummett?

  • Jfish
    November 9, 2018 at 12:57 a.m.

    So liberal Joyce Elliott endorsed the conservative Scott over Marion Berry's liberal former aide, Sabin? I'd like to hear Sabin's true thoughts on that endorsement. Yeah, I'd say the race will essentially come down to race even if we all really don't want to admit it or discuss it publicly.