The width of Mike Beebe’s victory margin and the narrowness of Bill Halter’s seem to be the main questions left on the state election scene.
But the Little Rock mayor’s race — in part thanks to the absence of public polling — remains far more intriguing. And it may not be resolved Nov. 7, if no candidate of the four receives 40 percent of the vote.
I rounded up opinions from the four candidates on a couple of propositions important to me — 1) the need to begin electing city directors by ward and 2) the clear wisdom of Central Arkansas Water’s decision to condemn Deltic Timber property near the water intake of Lake Maumelle, the city’s primary water supply.
Jesse Mason said he favored retention of at-large board seats and thought condemnation of the Deltic property was too expensive to justify the benefit. After that, answers were more in line with my thinking. Differences were subtle. Mark Stodola and Bill Walker spoke more definitively than Barbara Graves.
All the candidates favor a city government with stronger mayoral powers, naturally. But ward-only elections? Graves said she didn’t “have a problem” with the concept, but her thoughts would depend on the specifics of the proposal and she’d have to consider the strengths that at-large directors bring to board deliberations.
Walker said flatly that he favored ward elections. Stodola said that, if mayoral powers were increased, there’d be essentially no option but to pair it with ward elections.
On the Lake Maumelle watershed, Graves, Stodola and Walker all said they looked to the ongoing watershed study to produce some consensus on development issues. Walker and Graves both gave the same formulation that the water utility should “err on the side of water quality” if faced with irreconcilable conflicts. But Stodola, who listed water quality in his first campaign brochure, also noted that he at the time supported the water commission’s decision to move forward with the Deltic condemnation. He favors strong regulatory powers to enforce whatever watershed protection measures are adopted. Walker volunteered that his experience as a senator could be useful in fending off further efforts to hamstring the water utility by rural legislators led by Sen. Bob Johnson of Bigelow.
My chats with the candidates gave rise to another question. Both Walker and Graves have criticized Stodola’s single-minded focus on crime. Is he running for sheriff?
Stodola knocked this question out of the park — on a day when, as a backdrop to his endorsement by the prosecutor, sheriff and coroner, a new survey put Little Rock at 23 on the list of the most dangerous cities in the country. “This has a tremendous stunting effect on people who’d move businesses here,” Stodola said. He rattled off the population growth percentages in surrounding counties, against Pulaski County’s anemic increase, and talked of the people he’d met throughout Little Rock who commute miles to jobs here. “They told me over and over the reason is because they can’t find an affordable home in a safe neighborhood.” The city has 50 vacant police officer slots, he said. “I think leadership is defined by how you spend your money. It’s clear to me we have a problem and we have to address those problems first.” Crime is a “gateway” issue, he said, and its solution leads directly to better schools, economic development, good neighborhoods and a good community.
I won’t argue with that.