by Max Brantley
The mayor didn't make an announcement to the Council, as had been rumored, but it turns out he did make his decision known in an exclusive given earlier in the day to Jake Sandlin of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He cited his age. He just turned 65.
Hays is genial, but he has amassed total power over the mechanics of northside government. The city has much to show for it in projects like the ballpark, arena and riverfront trail. The downtown, thanks to significant private investment, is a model for downtown revitalization. But Hays fatigue (on the part of voters) was evident in a recent sales tax defeat, albeit a narrow one that might have been different had Hays not overreached on the size of the increase and the millions devoted to an incomplete and expensive idea for the city to get into the land speculation business.
For all that he's done, North Little Rock hasn't experienced real growth. Maumelle has captured much of the growth vitality on the city's western flank. The changing demographic face of the city — it nears majority minority — will be a factor in the race to succeed Hays. State Rep. Tracy Steele will be in the race. City official Joe Smith also is a likely candidate. Steele starts with much greater name recognition, a successful political career and, I should add, a mountain of baggage.
I have had my disagreements with Hays. But at his core he's a moderately progressive leader who really seemed to love his job and worked at it incessantly. I'd note he made a home for the homeless, without a note of demagoguery, when Little Rock failed to deliver year after year on its promise to provide a homeless facility. I honestly don't think Pat Hays would demagogue a center for veterans, as Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola is doing today. As home to an expansive VA hospital, North Little Rock is well familiar with serving those who've served the country.
Hays said he still might have some public service in him for North Little Rock or Central Arkansas. I wish that was a hint that he would jump into the race for 2nd District Congress, still lacking a Democratic candidate. He told me several weeks ago, however, that wasn't on his radar.