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Little Rock on verge of electing first Black mayor

Arkansas

Carol Ozemhoya | OW Contributor | 12/3/2018, noon

Six decades after nine Black students were escorted past an angry white mob into Little Rock Central High School, the city at the center of the desegregation crisis may be on the verge of electing its first Black mayor, reports ABC News. However, Frank Scott, the 35-year-old banking executive who may break that barrier, says it's not his motivation for running to lead his hometown.

“I'm not running to be the Black mayor of Little Rock,” Scott said. Scott could win by bridging some of the biggest rifts in Arkansas'’ capital: race, income and geography. A native of one of Little Rock’s poorer areas who has risen in its more affluent part in professions — politics and finance — it is dominated by White men. Race is hard to escape in the campaign for mayor in Little Rock, where divisions linger long after the school’s 1957 desegregation.

The city’s police department has faced questions about its tactics, including the department’s use of no-knock warrants. The predominantly Black Little Rock School District has been under state control for the past three years, and community leaders have compared the takeover to Gov. Orval Faubus’ efforts to block integration. Black leaders in the city view the Dec. 4 runoff as a chance for Little Rock to address some of its biggest divisions.

“Race is a major dividing line in this city. That’s one but the other major dividing line in this city is economics,” said Joyce Elliott, a Democratic state senator from Little Rock who’s backing Scott's bid. “Those two things have been lethal for this city, and we are not doing a good job of having a conversation or a plan that involve all of us that we carry out.” If Scott is elected, he’d be 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 is running against Baker Kurrus, a 64-year-old White attorney and businessman who was appointed as the school district’s superintendent after the state takeover. Kurrus' contract as superintendent 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. Both candidates are running on the promise of change as they seek the open, nonpartisan seat. Little Rock's mayoral campaign is winding down after a year where African Americans have made gains elsewhere in Arkansas.

Pulaski County, where Little Rock is located, elected its first Black sheriff and clerk this year. Several other cities around Arkansas have also elected their first Black mayors this year, including Fort Smith, a predominantly white city on the state’s border with Oklahoma.