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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 Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 09/13/2018

Print Headline: The road to a decision

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  • RBear
    September 13, 2018 at 6:23 a.m.

    Good summary of the first of the forums, John. I agree the format did seem a bit rushed, but it also avoided some of the usual grandstanding candidates sometime like to do. As the race gets closer to November, that will definitely change. The same top three emerged could easily push this to a run-off. Tolliver could be the spoiler that forces the run-off. He won't be in the top three, but all he really needs to do is draw north of 10% to force it.
    The best part about this forum is the ability to stay focused. Yea, 30 Crossing could have been pushed to the infrastructure forum but it could still fit in nicely into economic development as Scott framed it. What REALLY excited me was to see the number of attendees at the forum. I want to see if that maintains as the forums move around the city.
    Regardless, as I was talking to someone before Monday's forum this has to be the most exciting mayoral race Little Rock has seen in a while. Election night will probably be more fun locally than at the congressional level.

  • PopMom
    September 13, 2018 at 9:08 a.m.

    I agree with Brummett. I would be happy with any of those three candidates. It is an embarrassment of riches in one race which we have not seen since Dale Bumpers ran against Win Rockefeller for governor.

  • GeneralMac
    September 13, 2018 at 10:40 a.m.

    No mention of reducing crime so Little Rock isn't a hell hole like East St Louis?

    (I would have said Pine Bluff, but I believe Little Rock's crime index is even WORSE than Pine Bluff's.

  • GeneralMac
    September 13, 2018 at 10:46 a.m.

    High crime rates have hurt East St Louis and Pine Bluff from attracting people.

    Mayoral candidates could learn from what's happening to East St Louis and Pine Bluff when you can't curtail crime.

  • Illinoisroy
    September 13, 2018 at 11:16 a.m.

    I don't call you Arkansans redneck hill billies, why you picking on my people? Oh, racist!

  • GeneralMac
    September 13, 2018 at 11:21 a.m.

    ILLINOISROY..........why are YOU inserting race into this discussion?

    I certainly have not !

  • RBear
    September 13, 2018 at 11:47 a.m.

    Fake please try to keep up. The forum was about economic development. Until you who come to the boards drunk daily and can’t stay focused, the candidates DID remain focused. The next forum on Monday is about crime. Will I see you there? Oh right, I won’t because you live in Boone County.

  • GeneralMac
    September 13, 2018 at 1:35 p.m.

    Maybe I should make the three day trip to Little Rock and bring my briefcase full of crime statistics to distribute.

  • hah406
    September 13, 2018 at 6:09 p.m.

    Mac, if it takes you three days to get to LR, you are either on horseback, or have no business commenting on here about local issues. Why don't you just STFU and let those of us who live here discuss local issues.
    That said, I live east of downtown and will be impacted a bit by the 30Crossing construction. I want it. I embrace it. That bridge is narrow, dangerous, and about to fall into the river. Just do it!

  • GeneralMac
    September 13, 2018 at 6:55 p.m.

    HaHa406 ....... since Little Rock is the capital city of Arkansas, the embarrassing, sky high, crime rate of Little Rock should be a concern to every resident of Arkansas and not just the people who reside within the city limits.