The four announced candidates for Little Rock mayor took questions in a forum sponsored by St. Mark Baptist Church and KARK/Fox 16 last night and you can watch the full hour on the video here. Some differences emerged on the I-30 project, schools and city board governance. Also yesterday, more candidates filed for City Board.
Rachel Herzog hit some key points in her account for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette of remarks by Baker Kurrus, Warwick Sabin, Frank Scott and Vincent Tolliver.
* The 30 Crossing concrete ditch to further damage downtown with a still wider freeway: Tolliver and Sabin oppose; former Highway Commissioner Scott supports; Kurrus seemed to adopt a modified position in support — it’s going to happen anyway. Maybe not, at least in the devastating form now proposed. A lawsuit is coming. In its course, perhaps the highway builders will think longer about the damage this road has done to Little Rock and whether destroying a city in the name of moving people faster to suburbs is a good idea. “To hold out for nothing is a big mistake,” said Kurrus. I’m not sure I agree. Fighting the Mills Freeway made it better (though still damaging.) And what we have now is nothing plus an unfunded mandate on the city to correct the downtown street grid that the project will turn upside down. The fight isn’t over. See our cover story this week on Richard Mays, the environmental lawyer working on the I-30 project with some of the shortcomings he’s cited in the environmental review of the project.
* At-large seats on the city board. All but Kurrus said they’d do away with them. He said he didn’t see that they resulted in unfair representation but would happily review government form if elected. Well, the three at-large candidates, elected citywide, happen to be all white in a city that is majority brown and black. They also happen to combine with representatives of high-income wards to provide a controlling voting bloc that consistently favors the business community/chamber of commerce with policies that charge taxpayers such things as subsidizing the payroll of lobbyists at the chamber of commerce. A mayor aiming to be part of that controlling clique might be less concerned about this perpetual favoritism for big business and developers than those who favor a more democratic city government.
* Local control of the Little Rock School District, now in state receivership without elected representatives. Wrote Herzog:
All candidates but Kurrus expressed support for returning the Little Rock School District to local control. Kurrus said school quality would improve after neighborhood quality improves.
Kurrus did yeoman work as superintendent of the district after state takeover until he was fired by state Education Commissioner Johnny Key for fighting the manifest destiny of the Walton-funded lobby to charterize the school district. He also spent better than a decade fighting the good fight on an often bitterly divided school board. But there is no acceptable answer to this question in a representative democracy than to say, “Yes, of course, voters should elect the people who decide how to spend our property tax money.”
CLARIFICATION: Friday morning, the Democrat-Gazette published a correction on facts in this article including an elaboration on the schoool question. It wasn’t a direct question about a return to local control, but a question about the schools and the city and the candidates responded as the article noted. But the correction added that Kurrus has said on other occasions that he favors a return of the district to local control.
There are some racial undercurrents and power politics in these issues and the approaches of the candidates that I expect to see developed further.
On the candidate filing front, these new candidates filed Wednesday:
He’s the third candidate for Director Erma Hendrix’s seat.
He’s the second challenger for incumbent Director B.J. Wyrick. I have no additional info on them at the moment.