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Baker Kurrus describes Little Rock as a fine place with serious challenges.

He told me Saturday the future will demand compromise that the people of the city must learn to accept so they can pivot collaboratively to the next challenge.

Speaking of that ... there is the $630 million widening project for Interstate 30 through downtown Little Rock, which some see as the deciding issue in whether they'll vote for Kurrus or Warwick Sabin for mayor in November.

Kurrus told me there is nothing at this point that the next mayor of Little Rock could do to stop the project. He said Little Rock's board of directors voted months ago to accede. He says the revised lane configuration and the new entrance/exit design are better than initially proposed, thanks to citizen input.

Kurrus had ridden his bicycle downtown to I-30 that morning. From a close look, he pronounced the existing freeway run-down, noisy and unsafe on the Cumberland-Second Street exit.

A mayoral candidate pounding his desk about the project would accomplish nothing, Kurrus said. If a lawsuit brings a credible and persuasive legal argument, then maybe that would provide an opening for mayoral opposition, he said.

Liberal-minded voters who adored Kurrus' tilting at windmills as the state-appointed school superintendent fighting charter-school proliferation may not be nearly so enamored of his work as a mayoral candidate who declines to tilt at the freeway windmill.

Kurrus would argue pragmatism in both cases--that it makes no sense for the state to take over Little Rock's public schools to make them better, then expand a competing charter school system, just as it makes no sense to oppose a far-along highway project to which the city already has consented.

That would seem to provide a political opening for Sabin, the state representative who has long assailed the absence of foresight in building a bigger freeway through a city soon to be led by millennials who are moving downtown and eschewing cars in favor of walking, biking and ride-sharing.

Traffic that remains will choose the wider I-30 by the principle of "induced demand," Sabin said. That's the established pattern that cars wind up bumper-to-bumper on any new big road you build.

Sabin said he didn't want to personalize the issue as pitting him against Kurrus. But he said he would happily talk about his continued belief, first articulated four years ago, that the bigger-freeway approach is dead wrong for Little Rock's future competitiveness in the fast-changing world.

I asked if the issue was generational, Kurrus being 64 and Sabin 41.

Sabin replied that you couldn't distill it entirely to that. The greater issue is inclusiveness, he said. People of all ages feel left out of Little Rock's decisions, he said.

Indeed, I remember inviting Sabin to speak on his freeway opposition four years ago to a class of retirees in the LifeQuest program. He was received warmly. His position resonated.

Sabin contended that, even if his 30 Crossing opposition proves futile, he will have established credibility for the next ill-advised highway department project to roll inevitably through the city. He noted the new disruption to widen I-630 west of University. It stands to reason, he said, that the department will want also to widen the crosstown expressway eastward to I-30. At some point, he said, a mayor will need to influence such a decision at the start, not resign himself to it at the end.

It remains possible, he stressed, that a lawsuit could send everything back to the beginning. In that case, he said, a mayor who had expressed new ideas would be better-positioned than one who had thrown up his arms.

They're both right. Your choice is which form of right you prefer.

Kurrus offers pragmatism, accomplishment and a seasoned and measured form of leadership. Sabin offers vision, change and promises of inclusiveness.

Put them together and you'd have something. They're not bad separately.

Kurrus told me vision is great but that understanding your budget is how you achieve your vision.

"I've got the city budget in my hand right now if you want to hear," he said, at which point he dropped it to the floor to produce a thud I heard through the phone.

While Kurrus was biking to look closely at I-30, Sabin was attending two neighborhood meetings.

So these two manage to share appeal while presenting a clear choice of both style and substance.

It's not the only choice. Former Highway Commissioner Frank Scott, not without skill and appeal, also is running.

Others may get in before the filing deadline Aug. 17.


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 07/17/2018

Print Headline: The challenges of a city

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