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Little Rock mayoral candidates debate crime, transparency

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The four candidates for Mayor of Little Rock disagreed on handling transparency, parks and the War on Drugs.

The four candidates for Mayor of Little Rock gathered Monday for a debate hosted by KUAR, the Central Arkansas Library System and the League of Women Voters of Pulaski County. The debate was moderated by KUAR News Director Michael Hibblen. Incumbent Mayor Frank Scott Jr., who was first elected in 2018, is facing former car dealership owner Steve Landers, food blogger Greg Henderson and perennial city office candidate Glen Schwarz.

The opening debate question asked about the ill-fated LITFest, an arts and culture festival planned for the previous weekend. The event was canceled after concerns came to light over the city's contract with ThinkRubix, the company planning the event. Mayor Scott insisted he has learned from the experience.

“We don't need to get started on sham contracts tonight,” he said. “We don't need to get started on lawsuits tonight, we don't need to get started on misusing individuals.”

Scott said he wanted the debate to have a more positive focus. Landers responded to the LITFest allegations by calling the event a “bad idea from the start,” and a “political rally.” He detailed his plans to fight for transparency in City Hall.

“I pledge to post online my monthly expenses,” he said. “Everybody in the executive office's monthly expenses, so you can go online and see those. No credit cards will be in our executive offices.”

Schwarz and Henderson said they did not believe Mayor Scott acted with nefarious intent when planning LITFest. Henderson proffered possible reforms to the city's handling of documents subject to release under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.

“One of the things I've looked at is bringing in some of these people who do a lot of FOIA requests and to bring them into part of the conversation to help build that strategy,” Henderson said.

Glen Schwarz offered almost no opinion on LITFest. He said he is running for mayor to legalize marijuana and stop global warming. He attempted throughout the debate to bring up those issues, even holding up a book called “Whole Earth Discipline” while he was talking.

“Our downtown is suffering almost like a heart attack,” Schwarz explained. “I want to provide recycling services to apartments and condominiums, right now we only provide that to houses. And then finally as a bonus, I want to bring a space program to Little Rock. If Huntsville, Ala. can have a space program, then by the grace of God, Little Rock can have a space program too.”

A large topic at the debate was the issue of crime in Little Rock. Landers has made comments in the past about the number of parks in the city, saying as mayor he would look into eliminating some of them. Mayor Scott railed against the idea of eliminating any of the parks in Little Rock.

“And if you understand the majority of our 63 [parks] are south of [Interstate] 630, east of I-30, which are the most plagued areas as it relates to being low income and crime,” Scott said. “The thought of someone taking away a park in those areas is heartless and would create more crime.”

Henderson said city parks are vital. “Just because you don't understand the role they play doesn't mean you get to shut them down.”

Landers insisted he never said he wanted to close parks, just that “63 parks are too many.”

Mayor Scott, Schwarz and Henderson supported some form of marijuana legalization. Landers was unclear as to his stance on marijuana saying he would “leave it to the voters.”

The candidates each detailed their plan to fight crime. Schwarz wants to end the war on drugs. Henderson detailed his own crime plan.

“We cannot scare our way to safety,” he said. “We have to take real initiative to provide real solutions to real answers to move forward.”

Crime has been a large part of Landers' campaign in the past. He says he wants to put more resources into policing, summarized with the motto of “build, fund, and recruit.”

“We need to get the state police to work Asher, Colonel Glenn, Broadway, and Cantrell,” Landers said. “We need to ask for their support to come in and work those main arteries that go through our city.”

“Steve does not have a plan,” Scott said. “Steve said he wants to fund the police department. This administration never jumped on the defund the police train.”

Scott insisted that Landers' plan to bring more police dogs to the city was a “dog whistle.”

“I care for all the people of Little Rock,” Landers said. “Not just a few.”

Scott responded: “who cares for a few?”

Mayor Scott said there is no quick solution to fix the city's crime problem. He said his administration had made small strides in decreasing the crime in Little Rock during his tenure.

The mayoral election will be held on November 8th.

Josie Lenora is the Politics/Government Reporter for UA Little Rock Public Radio.