by Max Brantley
Mayor Pat Hays will be on hand to bob and weave. State Rep. Tracy Steele will be the moderator.
And therein lies a tale.
North Little Rock politicos think this: Steele, term limited, WILL run for mayor in 2012 no matter what Hays does. It's a presidential election year with a black candidate at the top of the ballot. President Obama will presumably do well and spur turnout in the home turf of Steele, who is also black. And did you know that North Little Rock dropped from 62 percent white in 2000 to 51 percent white in the 2010 Census?
Hays, on the other hand, has been coy about whether he'll seek another term. Some think the tax election is a proxy for his decision. A big win and he runs again. A big loss and he retires to play with his grandkids.
I wouldn't count on Steele getting out in front on the sales tax in either direction. He's unlikely to push it. But it would be a big pile of cash for a new mayor to spread around, particularly since the $15 million would pile on top of $14 million in freed money in two years when the city finishes paying off bonds for its hydro plant.
I can't personally vouch for this scenario, but I see how it hangs together. Racial politics are certain to be an increasing component of north side affairs. The school district — which isn't coterminous to city boundaries and gives up growing white areas to the Pulaski School District on east and west — is already majority black. However, to inject another topic, there's still a chance that the state Education Department, currently operating the Pulaski County School District, might decide the long-term solution is a realignment of Pulaski districts. One district south of the river and two north of the river — Jacksonville in one and everything else in the other.
The talk is going around.