Honing in on Little Rock’s mayoral race
December 3-9, 2018
By Jacob Kauffman
One of the most contested elections for any office this year in Arkansas has been the race to be Little Rock’s next mayor. Heading into the Dec. 4 runoff the margins appear to be tight as ever, with Frank Scott, Jr. continuing to hold a small lead over Baker Kurrus.
In these final days, the tone of the campaigns – which both wrap themselves with the shrouds of unity and change – has been noticeably more pointed. The stakes are high and both Kurrus and Scott are qualified, passionate candidates.
The only televised debate of the runoff hosted by KARK News went straight at the issue of calls for city-wide unity. It’s not often explicitly said by candidates but addressing racial divisions is at the heart of each candidate’s message of being inclusive leaders who aim to lift up the entire city and not just certain sections.
Last month the issue of race became especially prominent with Little Rock’s Fraternal Order (LRFOP) of Police criticizing Scott for supporting Roderick Talley. Scott met Talley after a Washington Post expose which revealed that the Little Rock Police Department appears to have engaged in hundreds of abusive, no-knock raids. Scott, unlike Kurrus, also favors an independent review commission for actions of alleged police misconduct.
Scott, later joined by Kurrus, asked the LRFOP to take down their post conflating Scott, Talley, and criminality. Scott has criticized Kurrus for not responding strongly enough. Kurrus says he’s been clear. It’s worth noting that the majority of the LRFOP lives outside of Little Rock.
The bread and butter work of the police force also serves as a contrast between the two candidates. Kurrus wants to shift desk officers to community policing and patrols while Scott envisions expanding the force from around 600 to 700 officers, in addition to fully auditing the department’s use of resources as Kurrus suggests. Kurrus says Scott’s $15 million price tag is simply too steep for a city that he says is already facing the proposition of budget cuts. Scott says there’s room in the budget – it’s a matter of priorities.
Kurrus considers himself budget-savvy, a pragmatist. He says he’s the only candidate who can work with the city board of directors on policy, walk the halls of the Capitol to advocate for the Little Rock School District (LRSD), and dive deep into the minutia of city budgeting. Kurrus hails himself as a self-made man who worked his way into Harvard Law School and served more than a decade on the LRSD School Board. He became LRSD Superintendent in May of 2015 after the state’s takeover of the district. He was later removed for advocating for the district and against the expansion of charter schools.
Scott also touts his professional experience. He’s served as an advisor under former Governor Mike Beebe, been a state Highway Commissioner, and is currently an executive at First Security Bank. Scott regularly highlights that he grew up in southwest Little Rock and is a product of Little Rock schools. He reminds people that he literally can negotiate the city’s divide, as he lives in southwest Little Rock but drives out to Ranch Drive in west Little Rock for work.
Prior to the runoff election, the Little Rock mayoral field was crowded with five candidates: Glen Schwarz, Warwick Sabin, Frank Scott, Jr, Baker Kurrus, and Vincent Tolliver. A candidate had to clear 40 percent to avoid the runoff contest. Scott came the closest with 37.11 percent to Kurrus’s 29.03 percent. Kurrus narrowly edged out former state Representative Warwick Sabin who pulled in 28.25 percent of the November vote.
The results suggest a divided city despite both men’s claims to represent all parts of Little Rock. Kurrus captured much of west Little Rock while Scott carried much of southwest, central, and east Little Rock. Sabin garnered majority support in the areas he served as a state Representative including the Heights and Hillcrest. Scott and Kurrus will be focused on making sure they can re-animate their Nov. 6 voters once again, as well as make fresh appeals to Sabin supporters.
Whatever the result Dec. 4, it’s likely either Scott or Kurrus could have their work cut out for them pulling the city together.