LR mayoral candidates address priorities at southwest city forum
Steve Landers absent from event at community center
Mayoral candidate Glen Schwarz (standing) responds to questions at a candidate forum at the Southwest Little Rock Community Center as opponent Greg Henderson listens. Mayor Frank Scott Jr. is visible on the right. (Credit: Lance Brownfield)
This article has been updated and slightly edited since Oct. 6, 2022.
Three of the four candidates for Little Rock mayor answered questions about crime, affordable housing and community youth programs at a forum at the Southwest Little Rock Community Center Wednesday night.
Mayor Frank Scott Jr. said he expects to work with a new police chief in a new term “to ensure that we continue the downward trend in community violence reduction.”
Scott said the city has seen a 6% reduction in violent crime, while he also admitted that homicides were up 13%.
Greg Henderson, president and CEO of Rock City Eats, said he hopes to hire a new police chief, or see one hired before the election, and work closely with them to foster the cooperation that the police department has already seen from the community in recent years.
Little Rock has been operating with an interim police chief since the retirement of Keith Humphreys this summer. A search is on for a permanent chief.
Perennial candidate Glen Schwarz said he wants to end the war on drugs to focus more police resources on violent crime.
Event organizers said candidate Steve Landers did not tell them he would not be attending. The forum was sponsored by the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority and other groups. Attorney Brenda Stallings moderated the discussion.
Landers told the Arkansas Times after the forum that “he chose to attend a different event — one at TAG Church, he said — after what he described as a ‘circus’ at a previous mayoral forum in southwest Little Rock. He said he would attend the one on Monday at Ron Robinson Theater.
“Landers also said that if elected mayor, he will serve all the city’s residents, and said he is “in their [the residents of Southwest Little Rock] corner,” the Times reported.
Forum attendees expressed interest in the relationship between southwest Little Rock residents and the police department.
Scott emphasized an increase in community policing during his tenure and four positions within the police department focusing on mental health.
“As a mayor who takes every phone call of every homicide … I can tell you, each time I get that call, it not only pierces my mind, it pierces my heart,” he said.
“I can tell you the homicides of the ’90s are not the homicides of 2022.” Scott said, referring to a decade when Little Rock was known nationally for its gang-related violence.
Henderson also put a lot of importance on community policing efforts. He cautioned that policing with fear will kill that momentum and set back the progress that the LRPD has made with the community.
“We cannot scare people into being safe,” Henderson said. “We can’t make them afraid to walk out their door at night. We can’t make them afraid of police officers. We can’t make police policies where we’re trying to say that we’re going to bring in a bunch of attack dogs or fly drones everywhere to check on people.”
The drones and dogs reference alluded to Landers’ three-point plan — build, fund and recruit — for law enforcement, released Tuesday. In a press conference, he said funds would be directed at better technology, including drones and body cameras, and more trained dogs. The three-point plan on his website makes no mention of dogs.
Scott said some of his other top priorities are infrastructure, specifically dealing with flooding in southwest Little Rock, and schools.
Schwarz can be contacted at [email protected]
Henderson’s campaign website is jgreghenderson.com.
Scott can be found on social media at Frank Scott Jr. on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and @frankscottjrlr on Instagram.
Early voting starts Monday, Oct. 24. The video of the forum can be found on the Southwest Little Rock Community Center’s Facebook page.
“The community schools model, which is already a state highlight as well as a national model, will continue the work to ensure our children achieve educational achievement to ensure that they are the best that they can be to have true full potential,” Scott said. “A rising tide lifts all boats, but you have to have a boat to rise.”
Henderson said he plans to work with neighborhood associations and city directors across Little Rock to create a network to get more work done and to keep leaders accountable.
Schwarz said his top three priorities would be to stop global warming, legalize marijuana and to create a space program in Arkansas’s capital city. A graduate of Florida State University, Schwarz said he’s worked to legalize marijuana for three of the four decades he’s lived in Arkansas.
“I was 30 years ahead of my time on this issue. And I’m hoping I’m 30 years ahead of my time in stopping global warming,” he said.
He suggested replacing coal-burning power plants with thorium-based nuclear power plants to deal with climate change. He wants Little Rock to lead the way in a global shift toward this type of energy production.
Schwarz has run for office in various positions in the city 11 times before this current mayoral bid.
When asked about attracting and growing businesses in southwest Little Rock, Henderson said cities that create a conducive living environment also create an environment for companies to set up shop. He plans to work to build retention and expansion efforts to keep businesses already here happy and growing.
Scott said more than 8,000 jobs have been created during his time in office and that area residents can not only find a job but also find an affordable home and a “new $120 million high school.”
Scott went on to say he does “not want to price out our residents” in light of growth in the area. He said he’s already set in motion plans to create 100 affordable homes, particularly south of Interstate 630 and east of Interstate 30.
He stressed the importance of financial literacy and credit knowledge and said home ownership is one of the best crime prevention strategies — one that closes wealth gaps.
Henderson said he plans to work on creating incentives to “fill in” vacant lots. The program would create a 10-year property tax credit for buying a vacant or unlivable property and building affordable housing there. He also spoke about revisiting city codes to allow for dividing lots rather than joining lots together.
Schwarz suggested that southwest Little Rock is already the “definition of affordable housing” and that renters should also be a priority.
“Don’t forget the rental people, people in alternative forms of housing, because they are legitimate citizens too,” Schwarz said.
Asked about programs for youth after school and summer work to keep young people engaged and out of trouble, Henderson said a lot of past mayors attacked the immediacy of crime but not where it stemmed from. Investing in children today can prevent them from falling into a life of crime in the future, he said. He hopes to work with Little Rock schools to make sure their needs are met as well as the needs of the students.
Scott recounted the successes that such programs have had during his administration and just how much has been invested in them. He shared that most of the city’s homicides involved young people between the ages of 15-25.
“That’s the reason why we’re spending close to a million in community schools,” the mayor said. “That’s the reason why our prevention, intervention, treatment programs from our Department of Community Programs spends $5.5 million. That’s the reason why we brought back Midnight Basketball. That’s the reason why we brought back summer youth employment. That’s the reason why we are ensuring that our children have something to do.”
Schwarz’s plan is to get the young people involved in his vision for a city of the future instead of creating afterschool programs and services. Furthermore, he disagrees that boredom leads to crime.
“I don’t think it’s the position of the city to give kids something to do from when they get off of school to the time they go to bed that night,” he said.
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