It has been just a little over a month since the mayoral election and I want to say first off thank you all who have reached out to show your support. I’ve heard from supporters as well as a huge number who voted for someone else that still wanted to wish me well, and I appreciate that more than I can ever express.
I took a bit of a quiet period this last month, I have dealt with birthdays, deaths, business obligations, and everything in between. A large number of you have asked me what is next, and honestly for the first time in a few years, I have absolutely no idea. I have said before that it would take a huge swell of support to encourage me to run for something else immediately. I am trying to explore what creating change looks like while not running for office.
All that said, I knew as soon as the election ended I wanted to eventually take some time to reflect on what I saw across the city and where I think opportunities to grow exist. While I am sure there are easily 20 more areas I could explore, here are 5 thoughts on Little Rock that feel the most critical to me right now following the election.
1. We Need Changes in the Mayor’s Office
While there was victory for mayor Scott in this past election, it certainly exposed a number of changes that need to be made before any progress can be made in the city. Mostly in that a voting majority of the city board has lost confidence in the Mayor’s office. Re-election or not, it isn’t going to change anytime soon. Throw into that the issues (whether you view it as real or not) with transparency and the mayor’s office is facing an uphill battle on progress.
I think the best way to combat this is a shakeup in the executive staff and focus on finding a few key individuals who can work with the board on initiatives, find compromise, and get things passed while maintaining the level of transparency needed to keep the office out of court.
I do believe trust and collaboration can be restored, but it is going to take some new faces that the board is willing to trust. I worry there are too many bridges burned between key figures in the current administration and the board to find a way forward. It doesn’t matter if that is fair or not to Scott’s administration, but it is the reality and board votes are 100% necessary to get anything accomplished.
2. We Need to Leverag Political Capital
The whole previous statement being said, as a student of political science there is real merit to the concept of political capital following an election, but it only lasts so long and you usually only have one shot to use it.
This has to come in the form of addressing the budget, in particular the deficit created by failing to pass the sales tax initiative previously. The administration needs to start coming up with a unified vision of a new tax push that clearly articulates 3-4 key areas that will be impacted in the next 5 years. Then that needs to get on the ballot this upcoming year. The longer we wait the less impact that political capital has and the less likely we can leverage it for impact as a city. It also needs to be realistic and not seen as overreaching. I suggested back during the first tax that we should have shot for a half cent and I’ll say the same thing now. It renews what we had, provides a little more for growth, and is mostly non-controversial. Prove all the progress you can make with that then come back for an extension/addition next cycle. It will pass, but only if we do not wait too long.
3. We Need to Focus on Bridging Divides
Little Rock has been divided for a really long time. It didn’t start in this administration, it just shifted. Landers played into that divide heavily and likely made it much worse, but much like Trump, it gave a voice to the other side of the divide. We need to be real clear, Landers’ platform was never about crime, it was about a significant portion the white western part of the city realizing the balance of power and the focus of the city shifted and not being happy about it.
That growing fraction didn’t go away with the election. I want to be clear here, I think it is long past time for there to be more equal power, focus, and attention to historically neglected areas of the city. I fully support this shift. But in shifting you have to be mindful to still address the needs of all areas. There is certainly a need to make up for historic neglect south of 630 especially, but we have to be mindful when planning and spending that we are not just shifting neglect around but rather trying to even the playing field for growth.
4. We Need to Establish Connection with our Surrounding Communities
I shared this idea a little when campaigning but the opportunity never really arose to really expand on the concept. Over the past 14 years or so in working with small businesses one of the key learnings I’ve seen is how well NWA works together as region, how much it has contributed to their growth, and how much of a missed opportunity it has been for the central Arkansas region to do the same.
Part of it is that LR has this alpha dog complex when it comes to the state. Throwing this concept out there on the campaign trail I would hear comments like “no other city is worth working with” or “why should Little Rock share?”.
The thing about working as a region the way NWA has, is that we have the ability to understand that growth and success for the surrounding area is connected in with our own. A big business expansion in Conway is good for LR’s economy. The resurgence of Pine Bluff is necessary for LR to experience resurgence as well. Growing diversity in Saline Co helps overcome some of LR’s own diversity issues. We can all succeed together or we can fail in our own ways independently. If we can find more ways to tell the story of the success of the region it breeds more success for the region, independent of who is succeeding. It helps share our collective strengths while smoothing over individual weaknesses. If we want to see the balance of the state start to shift back to Central AR, it has to start with recognizing the area as a region and working with other cities to do so.
5. We Need Better Small Business Support
Finally, and I could go off on a novel sized rant about this, we have to support small businesses and leverage our resources (monetary, influence, promotion) to help them first.
I can tell you after 14 years of helping small businesses around the state that it is hard out there. At the same time small businesses have a larger contribution to both the culture and the economy of the cities and towns they are in than any outside large business ever could. We desperately need to look at shifting part of the executive staff to focus on economic development to small businesses and make starting a business in LR easier. That is as short and as sweet as I can make that statement.
All of this to say, I do think Little Rock can make progress into the future. I feel like the challenges that face the next chapter are not insurmountable but can’t be ignored at the same time or they will be. I have always believed that Little Rock has every possible resource to be the best city in the south aside from the decisions and collective aspirations to get us there.