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.
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 email@example.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.
Editorial on 10/18/2018
Print Headline: The candidates revealed