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I was privileged to engage in phone conversations Monday and Tuesday with--in order of their returned calls--Frank Scott, Warwick Sabin and Baker Kurrus.

I can reiterate that which is well-established--that there's not a bad guy or unworthy mayoral prospect among them.

Scott said his runoff with Kurrus is all about keeping on keeping on. As the best politician in the field--and the best politicians usually win political races--he asked for my vote.

Sabin said he wouldn't make an endorsement in the runoff. He was in a better state of mind than I expected, considering how hard he'd worked and how close he'd come. He said he'd left it all on the field and had consoled the distraught pizza delivery guy at his stoop Saturday night.

Kurrus said his runoff theme is to refine and drive home his message, which, he said, is that he's the real change agent in the race.

Say what?

It turned out that, on this day when we spoke, Kurrus had launched a social media campaign with his runoff message, which was change.

He and his political advisers seemed to have conceded that this notion of Kurrus as the establishment favorite--a notion I've done my best to advance, owing to its accuracy--needed to be confronted and overcome.

That led to the most interesting conversation of the three--the one with Kurrus--considering that I've tagged Kurrus essentially an incumbent, a better Mark Stodola. That's based on his support from current City Board members as well as his muted response on some issues, such as city police corruption as alleged in exposés from The Washington Post.

Sabin offered bolder generational change and more friction with the board and city manager. Scott offers inherent change championing the city's neighborhoods of disadvantage, disconnection and distrust, which gave him massive margins in the first go-round even as he preached citywide unity.

Kurrus told me I was mistakenly conflating his support from persons now holding city offices with supposed protection of the status quo. Real change, he said, is less about personnel than what the personnel accomplishes.

He said real change will start with the new mayor's asserting a chief executive officer's authority over the city manager and effecting that authority by budget cuts to consolidate the mayor's and city manager's staffs. Real change would come, he explained, from having the support of the City Board for enactment of that asserted authority and the budget to back it up.

So, Kurrus' argument is that support from members of the City Board, rather than representing inertia, will endow him with the necessary political backing to deliver the most basic and major change.

"There, you're starting to get it," Kurrus said.

Well, at least I was verbalizing it, which was something.

I asked Kurrus about his muted and process-driven statement--as if straight out of City Hall--in response to The Washington Post's revelations and allegations about abusive no-knock police warrants targeting minorities based on bogus drug tips from dubious informants.

"I can't help it--I'm a lawyer with human resources training," Kurrus replied.

He said he was outraged by what he'd read and seen in a video on the Post website of the police blowing open an innocent man's apartment door. But he said the only way to proceed with an investigation and potential disciplinary action is to follow due process assiduously and not risk the appearance of pre-judging the matter.

Spoken like a splendid city attorney rather than a candidate for mayor.

"I'm not a politician," Kurrus said. It was the politic thing to say.

Scott arguably over-reacted with a letter asking the Justice Department for a federal civil rights investigation. But Kurrus understated. The guy who got it just right--he fell 600 votes short and is consoling the pizza delivery guy.

The remaining choice for Dec. 4, then, is between a spirit of change in a candidate inherently offering hope and inspiration to persons long lacking hope and inspiration--that's Scott--against a thoroughly experienced and supremely competent budget-master--that's Kurrus--who says change comes from well-executed public policy action and the hard work he'll start moments after his swearing-in when he calls in the city manager to say there's a new mayor in town.

In the first go-round, Kurrus led the voting in west Little Rock and the Heights. Scott led the voting in eastern, southern and southwestern Little Rock.

Put another way: For those who are comfortable, Kurrus is the comfortable choice. For those who are disconnected, Scott is the connection.

The runoff will come down to whether more comfortable people or more disconnected people vote.


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 11/15/2018

Print Headline: Comfort or connection?

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  • RBear
    November 15, 2018 at 6:39 a.m.

    Interesting read, John. I've also seen that shift in message from Kurrus, but it's going to be hard to get over the fact that too much baggage from the past seems to be resident in his campaign. That being said, I'm predicting a Kurrus victory even though he has a pretty substantial lead to overcome.
    I make my prediction from a VERY similar race in San Antonio that I've also seen play out in a few other muni races around the country. In the 2005 mayoral race, Julian Castro was considered the progressive young candidate, courting minority voters (yes, even though Hispanics are the majority in SA, they are still considered minorities) from the South and West sides. He was running against two other candidates, one being a retired respected judge, Phil Hardberger.
    Castro came in first with 42% of the vote (50%+1 is required to win without a runoff). Hardberger was second with 30%. The third place candidate had 26%. In the runoff election, Hardberger beat Castro 51-49. What happened? Castro's voters were minorities who typically don't turn out for runoffs. He was anemic in the South and West sides, giving Hardberger an advantage there. Most of Hardberger's voters showed up for the runoff and the third place votes coalesced around Hardberger, fearing the change Castro would introduce.
    Replace Castro with Scott and Hardberger with Kurrus. The dynamics are almost identical which leads to a high probability Kurrus will take the runoff by a slim margin. I could be wrong on this. I was on Sabin, not reading the voter dynamics of Little Rock very well. But I'm seeing this play out again with Kurrus and Scott. If Scott can't get his voters to the polls on a runoff which will not be highly publicized during the holiday season (you see where this is going), Kurrus wins because you can bank on Kurrus' voters showing up and most of Sabin's voters moving to Kurrus.
    Is that bad? Not my ideal, but acceptable. One thing that bothers me is Scott's views on social issues. I'm worried too much of his views will be swayed by his second job as a Baptist minister, especially when it comes to equality. That means not only with regards to sexual orientation and identity, but also religious tolerance. But, there will be more to come on that.
    I hear rumors of another candidate forum after Thanksgiving.

  • skeptic1
    November 15, 2018 at 7:29 a.m.

    Aren't you special.

  • RBear
    November 15, 2018 at 7:48 a.m.

    I see skeptic the troll crawled out from under her bridge this morning. Nothing to contribute, but just a troll comment. Have a "wonderful" day, Ms Troll.

    November 15, 2018 at 9:10 a.m.

    Why is septic so crabby these days?

  • drs01
    November 15, 2018 at 9:12 a.m.

    As predictable, Sabin will not endorse either candidate. He's thinking about his next race and doesn't want to waste his political capital. Fortunately for us, he will have to find another stepping stone to political fame and fortune.
    I remain skeptical that either of the two remaining can change the office without voter approval. That is what this city needs to decide, and not leave it up to a "take charge - take control" promise.

  • GeneralMac
    November 15, 2018 at 9:42 a.m.

    John Brummett and his lap dog RBear should go to Oaklawn often in 2019.

    Since they are so great at picking winners (Sabin, Clarke Tucker, and that foul mouth Beto fella ) they should make a killing at Oaklawn .............SARC

  • GeneralMac
    November 15, 2018 at 9:57 a.m.

    regarding RBear's lengthy rant at 6:39....

    2nd to last paragraph......."One thing that bothers me is Scott's views on social issues"

    Suck it up, snowflake!

    The entire city doesn't revolve around "LGBT,LGBT" and other perverted issues.

    November 15, 2018 at 10:18 a.m.

    ^^^Drunk before The Price Is Right comes on.

  • GeneralMac
    November 15, 2018 at 10:25 a.m.

    C'mon ARMNAR, can't you add the accusation of being gay in your feeble attempt to shut me up ?

  • RBear
    November 15, 2018 at 10:35 a.m.

    I'm ignoring the troll in HARRISON who never sets foot in Little Rock on this column. Nothing of value or substance. Just the rants of the Harrison town drunk.