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In the beginning, there was Warwick Sabin.

The first I heard of a new kind of Little Rock mayor--self-styled in a more politically active and muscular way--came from this New York City transplant.

From early inspiration by presidential candidate Bill Clinton in 1992, Sabin came to the University of Arkansas for his college education, achieved at a high level and eventually chose Little Rock as home. A longtime resident of a modest midtown neighborhood, he's done a variety of progressive-minded things. He led the Oxford American literary magazine as a Little Rock-based operation. He ran a local innovation hub.

He got elected as a Democrat to the Republican-overrun state Legislature and, from the tiny minority, got ethics reform passed, albeit reform made imperfect by the intervention of a Republican state senator now in prison.

His main rival for a base of support in the city's progressive white community has been the heroic former school superintendent, Baker Kurrus, a lawyer and businessman.

For all that I admire about Kurrus, I am decidedly unimpressed that he was urged into the race by old Clintonites and city board establishment types. They resented that Sabin had demonstrated the effrontery to challenge eventually retiring Mayor Mark Stodola in the first place.

Photographs on social media of a Kurrus fundraiser the other night showed attendance by at least four current city board members and longtime friends and political allies of Stodola.

I'm far less averse to Kurrus personally than to the status-quo protection of the people projecting their interests on him.

Kurrus is attempting a political finesse, one by which he straddles support from City Hall liberals like City Directors Kathy Webb and Capi Peck--who were put off by Sabin--with appeal to a white conservative Republican base in west Little Rock.

Kurrus carved himself out as the conservative default option on immigration during a race-issue debate the other night at Philander Smith College. While the other candidates said they would support Little Rock as a sanctuary city to the extent that its police department would emphasize local criminality and not harass persons on their immigration status, Kurrus said he wouldn't give a yes or no and "play that game."

But his position--expressed previously at other forums and directly to me--is effectively the same as the others: Don't bother the fully occupied Little Rock police with immigration enforcement, or the local population with harassment, but respect, of course, all valid warrants including those from Immigration and Customs Enforcement for persons arrested on local criminal charges.

The difference is that Kurrus wouldn't say "sanctuary city," at least last week. He said yes to it at an earlier forum in southwest Little Rock but tells me now that he "misspoke once" and learned from the experience.

I believe Kurrus is temporizing to reach for the vote of the white conservative in west Little Rock who said the next day that he had decided to vote for Kurrus because he was the only candidate who opposed sanctuary-city status.

Not really.

A sanctuary city typically relies on an ordinance, and the nature of the sanctuary depends entirely on what's in the ordinance.

Little Rock doesn't need an ordinance. It merely needs the reasonable policy and practice on which Sabin, Kurrus and Frank Scott agree.

Kurrus' conspicuous unwillingness to say the phrase will probably land him the support of Trumpians out there.

There was another interesting distinction between Kurrus and Sabin in that debate. Asked if they, as white candidates, thought they understood and could relate to the black community, Kurrus said the questioner must not know him and extolled himself through an adult history of black relations. Sabin said it would be offensive for him to suggest he could relate to the black community as well as if he were black. The objective is to grow, he said.

Scott, the third serious mayoral contender, is black. He has a story that inspires, a style that endears and a competence that is clear. His message of racial progress and unity appeals deeply.

But he is a bit longer on concepts than policy command and experience. And, even as a potentially unifying reformer, he is a tad establishment as a banker and former highway commissioner.

Little Rock needs to burst through its clubby establishment inertia and mobilize the latent resources of its chronically disconnected. Sabin is the best vehicle for that.

When staggering news broke early this week in The Washington Post about allegedly corrupt Little Rock police drug-raid practices with dubious no-knock warrants and blown-up doors, Sabin came first with a condemnation, statement of principle and call for investigation.

Scott soon followed and went further to call for a federal Justice Department investigation.

Kurrus came last to cite "this particular case," not a broader practice, and emphasize procedure on how policymaking and management practices should apply to solving the problem.

That revealed the candidates pretty well, I thought.


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 10/18/2018

Print Headline: The candidates revealed

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  • RBear
    October 18, 2018 at 7:58 a.m.

    To go a step further on Brummett's assessment of Kurrus, during the final LWV/KUAR forum when asked about whether he would consider changes to the current structure of government in Little Rock, he said he'd keep it the same, following the status quo mentality. He went back to the ordinance, but that really doesn't mean anything when you consider how the board operates, with three at-large directors who have been on the board 20+ years.
    Kurrus is an attempt to keep things as they are with a board who has essentially stagnated growth and development in Little Rock. This board is more about patting themselves on the back for minimal actions and then attacking anyone who wants transformative change. I watch Dr. Kumpuris sit in the audience during the discussion on board structure and you could see he was VERY concerned about the answers. He's worried he'll lose his "seat for life" with the board and is actively supporting Kurrus in this race.
    So, the real question to those in Little Rock who either live, work, or play there is do you want the same old, same old or are you ready for change in the city? Kurrus says he doesn't want to play the word games, but he's been doing it all along to capture the vote at any price. It's truly time for change in Little Rock. The future of the city depends on it.

  • nc72211
    October 18, 2018 at 8:21 a.m.

    Thank you! Thank you! "clubby establishment"? I've been trying to substantiate the rumor that Sabin was the one to take term limits from the people. I would think if he had his hands on the ethics part of that bill, he would be the guy that put the screws to the citizens of AR, Your article today has exposed a weak side in you. You can't accuse Currus of "clubby establishment" without admitting that Sabin is nothing more that a Clinton groupie, a political hack in it for as much as the game and the ego feed as anything else. People like him have to have it.
    You're worried about sanctuary city status? Worry about the crime status. The FBI has designated Little Rock the most unsafe city in America. Your unconditional love and affection for Sabin is refreshing. You're providing me with the information I need to make my decision to vote for Frank Scott or Baker Currus. Thank you! Thank you!

  • RBear
    October 18, 2018 at 8:26 a.m.

    NC first of all, if you’re going to support a candidate get the name right. It’s Kurrus, not Currus. Secondly, Sabin has already stated he would work at getting rid of the at-large positions which have become “director for life” positions so that flies in the face of your argument. Kurrus wants to keep them.
    Finally, when it comes to priorities at the forum Monday night Sabin states his #1 priority would be to address crime. Kurrus didn’t even mention it, wanting to continue to maintain status quo.
    I suggest doing the research before making uninformed comments.

  • GeneralMac
    October 18, 2018 at 9:58 a.m.

    NC7211.......I certainly am not going to correct your spelling or call you "misinformed"

    You stated YOU are going to vote in the LR mayor election which tells me you are a RESIDENT of LR.

    The big mouth poster who insulted you is NOT a resident of LR and won't even be allowed to vote in the mayor election.

    Ignore him !

  • RBear
    October 18, 2018 at 10:17 a.m.

    Ignore the fake in the trailer in Harrison who never even COMES to Little Rock. I spend more time in Little Rock than elsewhere (work, church, and leisure).

  • GeneralMac
    October 18, 2018 at 10:27 a.m.

    RBear.........your first post, last paragraph........."So, the real question to those in Little Rock who either live, work or play there do you want the same old,same old or are you ready for change "

    "work or play there " ?????????????????

    The fact someone "works or plays" in Little Rock and 50 cents will get you coffee at a restaurant near me.

    Only if one LIVES in Little Rock can they vote in the mayor election. and I have only ONE thing in common.

    NEITHER of us are a RESIDENT and thus NEITHER of us will be voting in the Little Rock mayor race.

    A non -voter (YOU) insulting a voter (NC72211) makes you look ignorant.

  • drs01
    October 18, 2018 at 10:51 a.m.

    For those transplants who are new to our city , note that we have had decades of ceremonial "talkers" serving as Mayor of Little Rock. Maybe it's time for a "doer". That would eliminate at least one candidate who I perceive as a political hack.
    Of course, nothing of significance will change in this city UNTIL we decide what form of city government we need. If that means elimination of 3 at large directors and the city manager or mayor, so be it. I don't believe you can do one without doing the other.We know how ineffective what we have now has been.

  • RBear
    October 18, 2018 at 11:17 a.m.

    fake with regards to the insults, you are more guilty of that than me. I am simply stating FACT, having attended the forums and heard the discussion. In a prior column regarding "sanctuary cities," you overstated a claim from as saying he did not support them, yet wasn't even in the room to hear the comment nor have ever talked to him.
    As someone who WORKS in Little Rock, I have every right to be aware and engaged in the process. I've heard you make comments about politics and candidates in other states even though you live in AR. So, your statements are about as hypocritical and idiotic as they come. Might I suggest that IF you have ANYTHING to say about the Little Rock mayoral race, you come down here to Little Rock and meet a candidate or two?
    You troll and run your mouth, but really are a bag of nothing holed up in a trailer drinking most of the day.

  • Packman
    October 18, 2018 at 11:36 a.m.

    Hey GenMac - There’s a 1/1,024 chance RBear is sane. Just sayin........
    Not sure why JB really supports Sabin but you can bet it’s not why he says. Of all the problems LR faces, the most critical is image. To outsiders LR is a cesspool of crime and cronyism. Yes, Sabin’s an import but nevertheless a crony of the liberal elites residing in the Heights and Hillcrest.
    Still predicting a runoff with Scott and either Baker or Kurrus and most likely Kurrus. Whoever wins I only hope they unabashedly support law and order and the rule of law.

  • RBear
    October 18, 2018 at 11:38 a.m.

    Pack wanna bet that Sabin will make the runoff? Same terms. Silence for a month.