by Max Brantley
Barbara Graves doesn't appear to get it. That's the only conclusion that can be drawn after reading the Democrat-Gazette's account of mayoral candidates' response to Mark Stodola's new TV ads, which emphasize his experience as a prosecutor and in shutting down drug houses, still a real and present danger in many neighborhoods, if not in serene West Little Rock.
Jesse Mason has already cut right to the quick of the issue. We need more cops. Bill Walker talks crime fighting, too, but reaches out to the black and liberal base with a "holistic" approach calling for intervention and prevention and treatment, too.
And what did Barbara Graves say? The D-G quotes her as saying:
"Does Little Rock want an enforcer or do they want a leader? All the candidates have different experiences.
"Is he running for mayor, which is policies and procedures? Or is he running for sheriff or prosecutor or police chief or assistant police chief? What's he running for?"
Wrong answer. "Policies and procedures"? What is Graves running for? Head bureaucrat.?
We are looking precisely for leadership in a mayor, hampered though the job is by structural deficiencies in our form of government. The city board and mayor are in the vanguard of dealing with crime by support of police, contribution to solutions of the county jail crisis and use of other money for targeting core causes of crime. There are indeed ways for a city to go aggressively after drug houses. More police CAN have an impact on crime rates. A robust mayor can set an agenda and focus the whole city government on it. Policies and procedures? That focus suggests, unavoidably, a continuation of a ceremonial mayor's position, a ribbon-cutter for whatever the powers that be deem vital to their interests, be it a new megamall or water supply-side development.
Crime is an issue. A candidate for mayor needs a thoughtful and preferably specific response to questions about it, not an airy dismissal of a candidate who knows what's on the public's mind.
PS -- In response to some comments: Crime is not the only issue by any means. But I'd argue THE issue in this race is a demonstration by whoever is elected that he/she gets the issues paramount to the city and its voters and can demonstrate the understanding and force of personality to lead the board to solutions. A pro at policies and procedures, however useful, is not what's required.