JOHN BRUMMETT: A wide-open race ... now

Posted: September 6, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

Our dreary state of politics cried out for something new. It was Warwick Sabin who tipped me a couple of years ago to freshness on the local political horizon.

We were discussing the woeful state of progressive politics at the red-overrun state Legislature where Sabin toiled with frustration.

He offered an ethics reform amendment that a now criminally convicted Republican legislator, Jon Woods, hijacked. He proposed in woeful vain a refundable earned income tax for the working poor, an idea Republicans liked when helping poor folks was in vogue and Ronald Reagan represented what we thought at the time to be frightful conservatism but now realize in the light of a Trumpian, Tea Party day to have been positively moderate.

Sabin challenged me to guess the office for which he was thinking of running. I guessed and guessed and never got it.


Mayor of Little Rock never occurred to me. It was an oddly hybrid office offering accountability without responsibility, sharing power with a city manager and ceding authority to assorted independent services led by insider commissioners appointed off the City Board or through the Chamber of Commerce.

Little Rock government was set up in the late 1950s to run on a business, not government, model. We've dabbed a little politics back into it over the years, producing an odd hybrid. What politician in his right mind would want that?

Sabin would. He saw it as a rare political opportunity for a progressive Democrat, considering that Little Rock, typical of urban centers nationwide, is a Democratic island.

And now just look at the others who want it.

There is Baker Kurrus, the lawyer and farmer and businessman who might have saved traditional public schools in Arkansas if Asa Hutchinson had let him stay as acting superintendent. He is becoming the city's best-known helmeted bicyclist, churning 64-year-old legs through run-down neighborhoods he says we must redevelop under his mayoral leadership.

To complement his aerobic training on the bike, Kurrus lifts the weight of the city budget, which he has pored over in his businessman's studious style. Once he dropped it to the floor when on the phone with me to demonstrate sonically its sheer bulk.

Kurrus is ... interesting. Two years ago, he came out at the end of the lawyers' Gridiron show at The Rep and danced to some funky music like a mad teenager, with rhythm and flexibility and endurance. He once got up at a graduation ceremony to speak and started singing Leon Russell's "A Song for You," which Willie Nelson has called the most beautiful song ever, because it just might be.

"I know your image of me is what I hope to be. I've treated you unkindly, darling, but can't you see? There's no one more important to me. Darling, can't you please see through me? Because we're alone now and I'm singing my song for you."

I just wanted to quote those lyrics, and to say I don't know what they had to do with a graduation ceremony but that I like a guy who would sing them at one.

There is Frank Scott, a new-generation 34-year-old fusion candidate, an African American born south of Interstate 630, a preacher, a former aide to Mike Beebe, a former highway commissioner, now a banker.

It's this way with me: I'm for the one of those three whom I most recently thought about.

Right now, it's Scott, because he was in the immediately preceding paragraph. But, wait, now it's Kurrus. Uh, oh, now it's Sabin.

I stand guilty as accused of two things--indecisiveness and giving short-shrift to two other candidates, Vincent Tolliver and Glen Schwarz.

But here's the thing: I, and you, have ample opportunity to learn about Tolliver and Schwarz in a remarkable set of forthcoming forums around town that reflects the new vitality of this office--and, perhaps, one can hope, this city.

The League of Women Voters, the Central Arkansas Library System, KUAR, AARP and the American Association of University Women are joining to sponsor five hour-long mayoral candidate forums on the next few Monday evenings, all beginning at 6:30, and all taking place at local public libraries. Four will be devoted to specific subjects and the final opened to general matters.

Here is the schedule: Sept. 10, on economic opportunity, at the Dee Brown Library at 6325 Baseline Road; Sept. 17, on crime, at the Fletcher Library at 823 N. Buchanan; Sept. 24, on infrastructure, at the Hillary Rodham Clinton Children's Library at 4800 W. 10th; Oct. 1, on education, at the Roosevelt Thompson library at 38 Rahling Circle; and, two weeks later, on Oct. 15, on general issues at the Ron Robinson Theater in the River Market.

I plan to attend all, and to make a hard, but hopeful, decision, and maybe stick with it.

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John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 09/06/2018