In the first public debate among Little Rock's mayoral candidates ahead of the Nov. 6 election, four men vying for mayor distinguished themselves from one another on issues of race and institutionalized inequality.
The event, held on the Philander Smith College campus, also marked the first time a city commission has hosted a debate. It was sponsored by the Racial and Cultural Diversity Commission in partnership with the Social Justice Institute of Philander Smith College; the Anderson Center on Race and Ethnicity at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock; the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service; and the Arkansas Public Policy Panel. Candidates have faced off in forums this year, but had not before had the chance to publicly rebut one another's positions.
Four of the five mayoral candidates participated -- attorney and business consultant Baker Kurrus, 64; Democratic state representative Warwick Sabin, 41; bank executive Frank Scott Jr., 34; and writer and activist Vincent Tolliver, 51. The fifth candidate, marijuana decriminalization activist Glen Schwarz, 64, was said to be unable to attend.
An audience-submitted question called out Sabin and Kurrus, who are white, and asked how they know what Little Rock's black community needs, "considering that it appears that you just started visiting and talking to people in black communities." The other two candidates who participated are black.
"I don't know who asked that question, but they don't know me very well," Kurrus said, explaining that he had interacted with people of all races throughout his career, but was open to learning more.
Sabin said his view was the opposite, saying the next mayor needed to "build faith back up" in every part of our city.
"I don't know the black community as well as I could if I were black, and I don't pretend to," he said.
The event's time constraints made for fewer rebuttals and more yes-or-no questions. When asked if Little Rock should be a sanctuary city and limit its cooperation with federal authorities in enforcing immigration law, Sabin, Scott and Tolliver said yes, while Kurrus said it wasn't a yes-or-no question.
Another yes-or-no question addressed whether the candidates would support the employment of Police Chief Kenton Buckner, who was a finalist for a job in Charleston, S.C., earlier this year before dropping out and opting to stay in Little Rock. Tolliver said no. Sabin said no, but indicated that a fuller answer might require elaboration. Scott said the mayor didn't have the power to fire the police chief, and Kurrus said the question addressed a personnel matter that shouldn't be discussed publicly.
All four expressed support for the de-prioritization of low-level marijuana offenses.
Metro on 10/12/2018
Print Headline: LR mayoral candidates hold first debate