by Max Brantley
As Little Rock debates changes in city government -- mostly about an expansion of mayoral powers -- activist Jim Lynch offers an analysis of another large problem with city government, the at-large election of a controlling bloc of city directors.
On the jump is Lynch's statistical analysis of elections over the years. Ward-only elections produce far more women and minority directors. And, we're reasonably sure, they are far more geographically diverse as well. Money drives the at-large elections.
Government changes are the subject of a series of neighborhood hearings, the first at 6:30 p.m. tonight at Dunbar Community Center.
FROM JIM LYNCH
The public hearings scheduled for the upcoming week caused me to pull out my research files from previous years and update them to show the unfairness of at-large city elections and, in the alternative, how equitable are the results when ward elections are employed.
I have attached further below an Excel file ("LR City Board_50 Years) that has three tabs. The "All City Director" tab shows every person elected to the LR City Board since 1957 when the Council-Manager system was adopted. 69 different persons have been elected as city directors. The roster shows the name, street address, dates of service on the
city board, and the gender and color of the incumbent.
The second and third tabs are labeled "At Large Directors" and "Ward Directors", respectively. This research shows 54 different persons have been elected at-large in the 50-year period, 1957-2007. The sad news is that only five have been black (9%) and 49 have been white (91%). No blacks have been elected to an at-large position since 1992, 15 years ago.
Women also do not fare well with at-large elections. Only seven women have triumphed in an an-large city election (13% of all at large city directors ).
In contrast, ward elections in LR have produced city officials who reflect LR's neighborhoods and population characteristics.
** 7 of 15 different persons elected to ward city director positions have been Black (47.7%)
** 7 Black city directors have served 40.1% of all years served by ward directors (45 of 112 years)
** 8 of 15 different persons elected to ward city director positions have been Women (53.3%)
** 8 Women city directors have served 51.7% of all years served by ward directors (58 of 112 years)
The poor record of women and blacks elected to the city board is in large part due to the cost of a city wide (at large) campaign. In the last two city election cycles (Nov. 2000 and Nov. 2004) the winners of the contested at-large positions spent an average of $39,368. Overall, candidates for at-large positions in 2000 and 2004 averaged $35,780. These dollar totals play directly into the hands of special interests who eagerly donate large sums to candidates who will bend their views and ignore the public interest.
Coupled with an accountable Mayor's post, adopting ward elections (eliminating the unfair at-large posts) will give Little Rock a breath of fresh air and level the playing field for all neighborhoods to participate and have the voices heard.