Arkansas State Representative,
Winrock International Senior Director of U.S. Programs
How do you view the role of mayor in a city like Little Rock, which also has a city manager?
I believe the mayor is the primary public advocate for the citizens of Little Rock because he or she is elected by the entire city to articulate a vision and enact a policy agenda to realize it. It’s certainly true that with the city manager form of government, the mayor has limited direct powers over city departments and employees, but the mayor can be the key leader who engages citizens in their neighborhoods, listens to their concerns, advocates on their behalf to solve problems and unites everyone behind common goals that are critical for the future success of our city.
What do you consider to be the biggest issue facing Little Rock today? What about five years from now?
The biggest issue facing Little Rock today is crime and public safety. Everywhere I go in our city, I meet people who have been victimized by violent crime, who have been violated by a home burglary or a car break-in, who have called 911 only to get no response. I’ve talked with police officers who feel understaffed and under-resourced, business leaders who can’t recruit employees, real estate agents who can’t sell houses or people who won’t visit or shop in Little Rock because of our violent crime problem. We have to address public safety in Little Rock with a sense of urgency, because it is impeding our progress and our opportunity to be successful in all other ways.
In five years, I expect we will still be working to improve our public schools, but as mayor, over the next four years, I hope to make significant progress in creating a city-wide plan to ensure that every student in Little Rock has access to a quality public education no matter where they live.
Too often the quality of public education available to our citizens is based on where they live in the city, and that’s not right, because it cuts off opportunity for our young people. But it’s also created a situation where people are moving out of the city or not moving to the city because they do not have faith or confidence in their school options.
How will you meet those challenges?
In the case of crime and public safety, I want to make sure our police department is fully staffed and has the resources it needs to prevent and respond to criminal activity in an efficient and effective way. I also want to reinstitute community policing, which is a strategy that has worked in Little Rock in the past, because police officers were assigned to neighborhoods where they cultivated good relationships with citizens and had the trust necessary to get good information and more comprehensively address public safety challenges.
I also think we can coordinate among city departments, so that areas like code enforcement, youth services and community programs are part of our approach to preventing and responding to crime in our city. We should emphasize anti-bias and de-escalation training for our police officers in order to defuse potentially dangerous situations and ensure more productive interactions with the community.
As mayor, this will be my critical and urgent priority.
When it comes to our schools, I want to be part of the solution. In six years in the state legislature, I’ve been a strong proponent of public education. I served two years on the House Education Committee. I spoke out against the state takeover of the Little Rock School District when it happened, and I’ve been advocating for a return to local control since that time.
As mayor, I want to make sure that I’m standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our superintendent and an elected school board to create a plan to accomplish one simple goal, which is that no matter where you live in Little Rock you know you can send your kid to a great public school. It needs to be a city-wide effort and a big plan that includes our political leadership engaged with the school district, because nothing is more important than the future of our young people and equitable opportunity for all.
How will you attract both new businesses and new residents?
As mayor, my priority in economic development will be to promote small business development and entrepreneurship, because it’s the most sustainable, effective and equitable approach. Little Rock has a storied history when it comes to the success of its home-grown ventures, and we need to create those opportunities for the next generation of entrepreneurs in every neighborhood in Little Rock.
That should be coupled with the development of our talent and human capital through apprenticeships and workforce training that gives young people and adults access and exposure to every possible opportunity for economic empowerment. When we are creating new businesses and new jobs and giving people the skills to participate in the 21st century economy, we are sure to grow in a steady and sustainable way.
What are some ways in which you will improve city infrastructure?
Our city infrastructure needs a great deal of attention mainly because there is so much inequity from one neighborhood to another. I won’t be satisfied until everyone has the same access to quality streets, sidewalks, parks, playgrounds, drainage, trails and other critical components to a dignified quality of life. We need transparency in how we spend our city funds, and we need to measure our progress toward achieving the goal of not just adequate infrastructure in every neighborhood, but excellence and sustainability in what we provide to our citizens.
What is your vision for Little Rock?
My wife, Jessica, and I love this city. But we know there’s so much more we can do to help it reach its full potential. We have the opportunity to be one of the best cities in the country, because we’re blessed with a beautiful natural setting and great people who work hard and are committed to our community. But we can do better and that takes leadership that is innovative, energetic, creative, and visionary. There’s more that binds us than divides us, and we can become a more inclusive city; one that values and raises up all of its citizens and not just a select few. We need our families to be safe from crime. Little Rock should be a city that attracts businesses of all sizes and creates jobs that keep families here. Students in every part of Little Rock deserve access to a world-class education. I know we can achieve these goals, and I want to bring new energy and new ideas to city hall as well as a track record of achieving real results through six years in the state legislature, my work in the private sector, and my community service. By working together, we can create a bold new future for Little Rock.