The two candidates for Little Rock's next mayor traded barbs in a televised debate Tuesday, one week before a runoff election will decide who will fill the city's top office.
The debate between Baker Kurrus and Frank Scott Jr. aired on Little Rock's NBC and Fox affiliates, KARK and KLRT. Moderators Donna Terrell and Ashley Ketz focused on public safety, education and the city's budget.
The first question referred to a recent Facebook post from the Little Rock Fraternal Order of Police. The post supported Kurrus, 65, by denouncing Scott's association with a man who fled law enforcement officers.
As he stated when the post first received criticism, Kurrus said he had nothing to do with the post and had asked the union to take it down, which it did.
"I said it's divisive and it's damaging to our city. It didn't hurt me, and I would certainly do nothing to hurt another candidate, but I did think it was divisive," he said. "I didn't know what to do other than to kindly ask them to take it down, which they did, and I thought that was the better approach."
He noted that other candidates, including Scott, had asked for the union's endorsement.
Scott, a 35-year-old bank executive and associate pastor, said Kurrus should go beyond disavowing the post and reject the endorsement.
"He's right. We both looked for the endorsement ourselves, but that was at a point in time when it was very civil and we did not engage in divisive tactics, and we did not know the Little Rock FOP would engage in something like that," Scott said. "I would like for my opponent to reject his own endorsement from the Little Rock FOP, so we don't have that type of past moving towards our future."
Later in the debate, attorney and business consultant Kurrus said Scott's calling on him to reject the endorsement stirred up mistrust.
Division in the city was mentioned again when the moderators pulled up a map of general election results by precinct, which showed that Scott carried most of the city south of Interstate 630, downtown and east Little Rock while Kurrus carried large sections of west and northwest Little Rock.
"As someone who wakes up in southwest Little Rock and goes to Ranch Drive, I already understand that there are disconnections," Scott said. "We're going to continue to use the same message and vision that we've always done and make sure we're reaching out to all voters."
When asked what he would do to reach neighborhoods that didn't side with him initially, Kurrus said his history of service to the community spoke for itself. He served 12 years on the Little Rock School Board and as the district's superintendent for 13 months.
"I'd guess I went to 400 School Board meetings," he said. "When I was school superintendent, I went to where the needs were the greatest, and a lot of those needs were in south and southwest. I don't have to reach out. I've already been reaching out."
Kurrus' past superintendent role came up later when candidates were asked what they would do to support the state-controlled district. Both of them support local control, but Scott said that wasn't always the case for Kurrus, referring to past media coverage. Kurrus called the claim "nonsense."
At the time Kurrus was named school district superintendent, the Democrat-Gazette reported that a motion was made by a state Education Board member to reinstate the district's elected School Board to work in partnership with Kurrus. Kurrus called it a "terrible idea," saying he wouldn't know whether to report to the board or to Arkansas Education Commissioner Johnny Key. The motion failed.
If elected mayor, Kurrus said he would focus on building good communities and that improved schools would follow. Regarding local control, he said he would "make things happen" at the state Capitol.
"I understand what community control can do for a school district," he said.
Scott's approach involves appointing a chief education officer to ensure better coordination between the district and city officials in implementing youth opportunity programs.
"The students are our most precious assets, as well as those teachers," he said.
When asked how he would address violent crime, Scott said poverty and education need to be addressed first.
"It's not a disease. What it is is us not addressing the root cause of the symptoms," he said.
His plan to add about 100 police officers to Little Rock's force -- which would require about $15 million in funding -- drew criticism from Kurrus.
Kurrus said the city would see at least $8 million in budget cuts this year, based on his analysis.
"You won't find a plan to come up with that money. It's not possible. It's not feasible," he said.
Instead, Kurrus said, the department should be "fully staffed and fully trained," with more officers on patrol. He said he would balance the budget by cutting from the city's administrative offices.
"We can't make excuses for crime. It's unacceptable. We have to own it as a community," he said.
Scott said the money would come from the city's existing budget of roughly $265 million. He said he had experience in making things work in the state budget from his time in former Gov. Mike Beebe's administration.
Early voting for the runoff election is underway.
Early voting in the Little Rock mayoral runoff election started Tuesday. Candidate Frank Scott’s father, Frank Scott Sr. (left), and Baker Kurrus supporter Beth Coulson tout their candidates outside the Pulaski County Regional Building, an early voting site.
Metro on 11/28/2018
Print Headline: Kurrus, Scott spar over Little Rock public safety, budget