Nine people are running for the Ward 1 City Director seat, making up the largest field of candidates on Little Rock's ballot and calling for change in an area where part of the city is plagued by poverty and stagnation.
Incumbent Erma Hendrix, 88, has served on the city Board of Directors since 2007. At a recent forum, she said she looked forward to continuing her work on the board "without fear of any one person." She said she hoped her being the only female candidate in the race will have an impact on voters.
For two candidates, the 2018 election is not the first time they have challenged Hendrix. La' Changes restaurant and lounge owner Herbert Broadway, 60, has run for the office and lost to Hendrix twice before.
Broadway said in a phone interview Tuesday that doing business in the ward since the 1980s gives him experience with rental inspection issues and problem-solving, and if elected, his focus would be on educating and listening to constituents.
"Everything starts with the people first," he said.
Robert Webb, 49, has also run against and lost to Hendrix twice. The contractor said he has been attending city Board of Directors meetings since 2003, educating himself on city issues and finances.
"I went down there, and I just wanted to make a change," he said. "To make that change, I had to learn what I could learn."
When reached by phone Tuesday, Webb said he would address human capital -- such as employment and education -- and economic development issues in the ward.
Ted Adkins, 52, retired from the Little Rock Police Department after 33 years in June. He said that experience gives him unique knowledge of the city's inner workings and that Little Rock needs to get "back to the basics."
Bryan Frazier, 42, is the owner of Capitol View Studio and an advisory board member for the Salvation Army, working with veterans and the homeless. He said the city needs to have an urban mindset, not a suburban one.
Greg Henderson, 35, is the publisher of Rock City Eats. He said he wants to focus on building coalitions to reach the best solutions and again make Little Rock a "beacon of hope" for people across the state.
Ronnie Jackson, 55, is president of the East Little Rock Neighborhood Association. He said he has extensive experience working in the community and that reinvigorating the ward's neighborhood associations will drive change.
Curtis Johnson, 50, is the executive director of operations for the Pulaski County Special School District and said he has experience revitalizing the area around Arkansas Baptist College. He said he intends to represent everyone in the ward and continue a life of service.
Danny Lewis, 52, is a real estate broker, an associate pastor and chairman of the Capitol Zoning District Commission's advisory committee. He described himself as an advocate, a change agent and a unifier, saying Ward 1 needs someone with new ideas who will work well with others.
The candidates agree that blight, vacant lots and rental inspection are issues in the ward. The city lags behind in enforcing its current rental inspection ordinance, which calls for all rental housing to be inspected for code compliance once every two years.
Members of the Coalition of Little Rock Neighborhoods have been working with City Manager Bruce Moore to update the statute so that the city randomly inspects 20 percent of the units each year.
Renters make up about 44 percent of Little Rock's housing market, and there are nearly 36,000 rental properties in the city, according to a 2016 report from Metroplan, the regional planning authority for central Arkansas.
In response to a question in a forum about how Little Rock can improve its compliance with its rental inspection ordinance, Hendrix said she had previously asked a state legislator to present a law to change the rental inspection system. She said she would continue that effort if re-elected, adding that she thought landlords in the city were too lax.
Adkins said landlords need to be held accountable with measures beyond just receiving warnings, and that the city's code enforcement division lacks personnel. Frazier said the issue stems from state laws that give landlords too much power, and those need to be addressed first.
"The stories I've heard from renters, friends and family of what the landlord doesn't have to do -- it's shocking," Frazier said.
Henderson said the issue of rental inspection was a lot like other issues in that the city had waited for it to become a crisis, rather than being proactive.
Jackson said more inspections are needed and that the ordinance should be revised, but he said the city should look into whether the code enforcement division has enough staffing. Johnson said he believes the rental inspection process has improved over the past two years, but more progress is needed.
Lewis said changing the perception of the work that code enforcement does is important. He said code enforcement officers should be trained to be softer in their approach and should be paid better.
"You get more with honey than you do with vinegar when you be nice to people. That's just my take thus far," he said.
Broadway said in an interview that he believed solving the city's rental inspection issue requires the cooperation of all parties involved. Webb said over the phone that the ward needs a comprehensive plan to address its many vacant lots and structures. He said the ward also needs to address its low housing stock.
At the recent Coalition of Little Rock Neighborhoods forum, most candidates expressed their support for funding more bicycle paths and trails in the ward, though some said the area's other issues should be prioritized over them.
"We need to look at blight before bike lanes," Hendrix said. "Though they're on my list, they're not at the top."
Adkins said bike lanes are a priority, but not a major one. He said Little Rock needs to be a leader, instead of trying to get behind other cities, and work to make people want to come to Arkansas' capital city.
Frazier said Little Rock's side of the Arkansas River Trail is dangerous and broken up, in contrast with the North Little Rock side.
Henderson said Little Rock needs to be more like Fayetteville, which has a strong trail network.
Lewis said hiking and biking trails are important for the economy and for the health of individuals, and safety should be a priority in constructing them.
At the forum, Jackson and Johnson also expressed support for trails downtown. Broadway and Webb did not attend the forum. Johnson also said he would support a light rail system connecting Little Rock to cities such as Pine Bluff and Hot Springs, noting that the city could do more for green development.
"Standards for building and construction are changing," he said
All expressed support for increased community policing in the ward, while Adkins and Frazier said that based on their experience being a part of and working in conjunction with the Little Rock Police Department, they know that the department is short-staffed.
Little Rock's first ward covers the eastern part of the city as well as downtown, the River Market area, the South Main neighborhood and the neighborhood around Central High School.
Members of the Little Rock Board of Directors serve four-year terms and are each paid $18,000 annually. The election is Nov. 6, and early voting began Monday.
Metro on 10/24/2018
Print Headline: 9 hopefuls vying for Little Rock's Ward 1 seat offer viewpoints