Arkansas' cap­i­tal city elects black mayor for first time

El Dorado News-Times - - Viewpoint -

LIT­TLE ROCK, (AP) — A bank­ing ex­ec­u­tive and for­mer high­way com­mis­sioner won Tues­day's runoff for Lit­tle Rock mayor, be­com­ing the first AfricanAmer­i­can elected to lead Arkansas' cap­i­tal six decades af­ter it was the cen­ter of a school de­seg­re­ga­tion cri­sis.

Frank Scott, 35, de­feated Baker Kur­rus in the runoff elec­tion for the non­par­ti­san, open seat. He'll suc­ceed out­go­ing Mayor Mark Stodola, who an­nounced ear­lier this year he wouldn't seek re-elec­tion.

Scott served as an ad­viser to for­mer Gov. Mike Beebe and on the state High­way Com­mis­sion, and he as­sem­bled a coali­tion that crossed racial and po­lit­i­cal lines. His sup­port­ers in­cluded Demo­cratic state leg­is­la­tors from the area and prom­i­nent Re­pub­li­cans such as Will Rock­e­feller, grand­son of Arkansas' first Re­pub­li­can gov­er­nor since Re­con­struc­tion. He also was en­dorsed by New Jer­sey Sen. Cory Booker, a Demo­crat who's con­sid­er­ing run­ning for pres­i­dent in 2020.

Scott had said he wasn't run­ning to be Lit­tle Rock's first elected black mayor , but had sought to bridge some of the city's big­gest di­vides: race, in­come and ge­og­ra­phy.

"If you be­lieve it's time to unify this city, let's do it," Scott told sup­port­ers

Tues­day night.

Lit­tle Rock has had two black may­ors, but they were elected city di­rec­tors cho­sen for the job by fel­low board mem­bers and not by vot­ers. Some vot­ers Tues­day said they hoped elect­ing Scott would send a mes­sage about Lit­tle Rock.

"I just thought maybe it would help race re­la­tions in our town, which is not very good right now," said Mary Leckie, a 73-year-old white re­tiree who voted for Scott.

Scott's elec­tion comes as race re­mains a di­vid­ing line in Lit­tle Rock, long af­ter nine black stu­dents were es­corted past an an­gry white mob into Lit­tle Rock Cen­tral High School in 1957. The city's po­lice de­part­ment has faced ques­tions about its tac­tics, in­clud­ing its use of "no-knock" war­rants . The state took over the Lit­tle Rock School District three years ago, and com­mu­nity lead­ers have com­pared the takeover to Gov. Or­val Faubus' ef­forts to block in­te­gra­tion.

Kur­rus, a 64-year-old at­tor­ney and busi­ness­man, had been ap­pointed su­per­in­ten­dent of the district af­ter the takeover. His con­tract wasn't re­newed af­ter he op­posed the ex­pan­sion of char­ter schools in the district, a move that ral­lied Demo­cratic law­mak­ers and com­mu­nity lead­ers to his de­fense. Kur­rus, who is white, had also called uni­fy­ing the city one of his goals in the cam­paign.

"Let's don't give in to the things that di­vide us. Let's get to­gether, work hard and make this a bet­ter place," Kur­rus told sup­port­ers af­ter con­ced­ing the race.

Scott's elec­tion makes him the high­est-pro­file black of­fi­cial in a state that hasn't elected an African-Amer­i­can to Congress or statewide of­fice since Re­con­struc­tion. Blacks make up about 42 per­cent of the city's pop­u­la­tion, com­pared to nearly 16 per­cent statewide.

Scott and Kur­rus ad­vanced to a runoff last month af­ter Scott won a plu­ral­ity of votes in a five-per­son race but a few per­cent­age points shy of the 40 per­cent needed to win out­right. Both Scott and Kur­rus ran on a prom­ise of change. Stodola, the out­go­ing mayor, was first elected mayor in 2006.

"It's not a black or white thing with me," said Lula Binns, a 75-year-old black re­tiree who voted for Scott. "It's just time for some younger blood."

Scott's elec­tion comes af­ter a year where African-Amer­i­cans have made gains else­where in Arkansas. Pu­laski County, where Lit­tle Rock is lo­cated, this year elected its first black sher­iff and clerk. Sev­eral other Arkansas cities have also elected their first black may­ors this year.

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