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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: It’s about options

by John Brummett | September 25, 2022 at 1:56 a.m.

It was largely a white liberal Little Rock audience, and several in it asked aloud a stunned "why?"

It happened when I told the group last week that nearly every member of the City Board of Directors preferred not to have Frank Scott as mayor for another four years.

Scott's friend Antwan Phillips would be an obvious exception, or island.

My best guess is that these people in the audience were making instant calculations about the thing that all white liberals, especially the beleaguered in these parts, must keep ever in mind these days. That would be the available option.

They thought Scott was all right. Did these city directors, especially the ones known to be progressive, want Steve Landers?

The retired automobile dealership mogul probably strikes these stunned audience members as unqualified or untested or even Trumpian in his make-Little Rock-great-again sales pitch.

I asked a couple of informed sources later if I had misrepresented the city board's anti-Scott sentiment. I was told I hadn't, from the board's philosophical left to its right, although it's not out of the question that one or more of the directors could show up on a list of endorsers issued by the Scott campaign.

Again, it's about the options.

One or more of the directors might say something like: "Oh, OK, Frank. Put my name down. I sure don't want Landers. But don't think for a minute this means I forgive you for the arrogant, uncommunicative, extravagant and personal brand-protecting way you've behaved."

Those are the issues with Scott, lumped broadly, at least among those in the city of a moderate-to-liberal persuasion who might otherwise be inclined to ally easily with Scott.

They think he has many commending qualities but tends to make everything all or mostly about himself. They think he mostly wants a program or project to cite for every ailment--for his personal brand--regardless of whether those projects and programs have been developed as substantive policy with the board, which they usually haven't.

Scott thinks these are generational disconnections. He blames longtime directors not accustomed to a strong mayor.

That's both true and arrogant-sounding, which is kind of his political problem and the city's governing problem.

One other criticism of Scott is that he asks for a lot of advice but never takes a bit.

Conservative board members are more basic. They don't want four more years of Scott for the reason that they're conservative and he isn't.

But, speaking of options, there is the matter of a modest bit of news.

You remember Baker Kurrus. He's an accomplished businessman and the heroic state-appointed Little Rock school superintendent who martyred himself by opposing the state's obsession with charter-izing the city's public school culture. Then he ran for mayor four years ago and lost a runoff to the momentum generated for Scott as he contended to be a race-plagued city's first popularly elected Black mayor.

Some people don't like to lose.

I'm not calling Kurrus a sore loser. I'm saying losing might stick in his craw. And maybe he simply likes tighter administration than he's seeing.

I'll share a rumor only for context. Talk has been raging that, if Landers is elected, Kurrus would become his chief of staff and actually run city government while Landers drives around chatting people up about how they're doing with their potholes and shootings and such.

So I asked Kurrus, whose varied background includes the auto business and who has a pre-existing relationship with Landers, whether there was anything to the rumor.

Here was Kurrus' response by text: "I talk to Steve from time to time, but I have no formal role in his campaign. I think he is the best option. [Italics added by columnist.] I am not looking for a job. I have all the work I can handle. I have made the same offer to Steve that I made to Frank. I will help the city any way I can."

Let the chips of that statement fall where they may.

Though he didn't have the political chops to beat the Scott momentum and bridge the city's race divide four years ago, Kurrus is well-regarded both within the business community and by public-education liberals.

Tax proposals put to the voters over the last four years by the school district or the city failed when Kurrus issued opposing public analyses. They passed when he said they were all right by him. That's not entirely coincidence.

Thus he has some potential--in his calling Landers the "best option"--to cause some of those people who might have been stunned last week to go "hmmm."

Kurrus told me he may submit a guest column for this page elaborating on these matters.

He is no kingmaker. He lost to Scott four years ago. He can't elect a poor imitation. But he has some earned credibility in places where Landers doesn't.

Remember that this is a four-candidate race and a ticket-leading 40 percent plus one vote wins it without a runoff.

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.

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