When the filing period closed Sept. 8, four candidates emerged to be the next mayor of Little Rock: Barbara Graves, Jesse Mason, Mark Stodola and Bill Walker.
All are former office holders and are prominent in the community, a reflection of the rare opportunity this contest represents.
With the announcement earlier this year that incumbent Mayor Jim Dailey would not stand for re-election, this will be the first open-seat election for mayor since 1994, when Dailey became the first directly elected mayor since 1957. The vote will take place Nov. 7, but there likely will be a runoff, since it will be difficult for a candidate to get the 40 percent necessary to win outright.
The intensity of the race is especially interesting because under Little Rock’s city manager form of government, the mayoral position is part-time (earning a $36,000 annual salary) and carries few powers beyond those of a city board member. A mayor presides over board meetings but has no veto.
Conversations with the candidates, however, indicate that momentum is building toward a change in city government, whether by increasing the mayor’s powers, moving toward a mayor/council form of government, or both.
Crime is at the top of their agendas, reflecting concerns they say are widespread among the electorate.
To begin the campaign season, we’ve compiled mini-profiles and asked the candidates about issues that have been at the forefront of city politics in recent years or could face a new mayor, such as additional impact fees or passing a city ordinance to cover exceptions in the new state anti-smoking law. The questions preceded the special election on the county sales tax to support the jail, which was defeated.
We ask about race because the city is more than 40 percent black, a voting segment that typically has coalesced behind black candidates. Two of the four mayoral candidates are black.
KEY TO QUESTIONS
Impact fees: Little Rock is currently paying a consulting firm to study the possibility of impact fees, which some cities impose on developers to pay for new infrastructure – utilities, police, fire, parks, etc. – required by growth.
County jail tax: On Sept. 12, Pulaski County voters rejected a quarter-cent increase in the sales tax to increase the amount of space available at the Pulaski County Jail.
nummit Mall: A long-simmering issue in city politics, the Summit Mall was a major shopping center proposed for a site on Shackleford Road in West Little Rock. Amid continued protests that centered mainly on traffic and environmental concerns, the idea was eventually abandoned, but a smaller shopping center is rising at the site.
Smoking ordinances: During a special session earlier this year, the Arkansas legislature passed a law banning smoking in public places, exempting establishments that limit their patrons to those 21 years of age and older. Some have suggested that Little Rock should pass a stricter ordinance that closes the loophole.