Local organizations led by the League of Women Voters staged the first of five mayor-candidate forums Monday night. Dozens of people filled the meeting room at the Dee Brown Public Library in southwest Little Rock for an hour's discussion on economic opportunity.
The event proved weird, but instructive.
Candidates got only one minute to respond to queries posed first by the sponsoring groups and then from the audience. The rat-a-tat format was designed to cram a lot of information into the strictly enforced time limit. It managed somehow to be both rushed and revelatory.
Each question was answered in the same lottery-determined order of candidate response, beginning with Warwick Sabin. That was conceptually unfair. Sabin couldn't play off the others though they could play off him.
But it didn't matter. There was no personal criticism and no difference on issues except on the big one we know--Interstate 30 widening through downtown Little Rock.
All the candidates favor neighborhood connectedness and redevelopment, sustainable development, increased broadband access, stronger tenants' rights and paying newly hired employees without regard for past salary but solely on an equitable basis set for the job.
The format actually proved handy. Starting with Sabin managed to lay the foundation for an informed and on-point discussion. He knows more about policy and issues than all the other candidates--except for the candidate who went last each time, Baker Kurrus. He is Sabin's equal generally and superior when it comes to the city budget and what funds are available, or unavailable, for, say, subsidizing broadband.
The evening proved instructive for just that reason--that Sabin and Kurrus could be properly identified as the cream of the crop on substance and issue command.
A third candidate, Frank Scott, could be revealed as well--as rivaling those two not on substance or issue command, but on lofty concept. He is a millennial black man born in the city's neglected sector who worked for Mike Beebe and as a highway commissioner and is now a banker and preacher. He says we must have the kind of citywide unity his leadership can forge before any of the substantive particulars can be brought to bear.
The "30 Crossing" discussion Monday night served as a nice microcosm of, or metaphor representing, the race generally.
Sabin reiterated that he opposes the project. He offers future-thinking leadership in which Little Rock emerges as a place you go to, not through, and as a youthful, modern culture and economy along the order of Austin and Nashville where conventional transportation methods evolve. He's a new-day guy.
Glen Schwarz, a libertarian-influenced candidate, asked what "30 Crossing" was.
Scott, a highway commissioner embracing the project, said that, as a black man from south of Interstate 630, he understood that freeway development can divide, isolate and neglect, but that Interstate 30 is already in place and no resident is being relocated. As a banker, he said, he sees economic development on the freeway already--the Clinton Presidential Center and the East Village growth--and more to come. As a former highway commissioner, he says the bridge will soon not be safe. So, he's giving you real-life sensitivity to racial divides combined with conventional highway thinking and standardized economic development policy. Unity, he'd call it.
Vincent Tolliver said he opposes the project as designed although some freeway improvement might be all right.
Kurrus simply read the minutes of a Metroplan meeting in which the city of Little Rock and all other governing boards in the region approved the project. Like it or not, he said, the decision is made absent a lawsuit, which he'd welcome, and the relevant mayoral candidate discussion at this point is how to protect the city's interest and residents through the project. He's the well-informed, straight-talking pragmatist of the kind who effectively led the embattled Little Rock school district.
There have you it: Five men, five positions, five styles, five clear choices.
Except the choice among three is not as easy as it is clear.
I have a few emails from readers asking me to offer an endorsement. I can do that right now: I endorse three--Scott, Kurrus, Sabin. The city will be in good hands with any of them.
Which of the three do I endorse the most? That choice seemed obvious to me Monday night. One of the candidates excited and encouraged me most. I was ready to go vote for him.
But there's no need to decide that finally, much less reveal it, at this point. There are four more forums to come. Early voting is weeks away.
In due time, I will declare my informed preference, make my best case and offer it for what it's worth.
Meantime, there are microcosms yet to behold and metaphors yet to conceive.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.
Editorial on 09/13/2018
Print Headline: The road to a decision