LITTLE ROCK — Come January, Arkansas’s capital city will have a new leader. Former highway commissioner Frank Scott Jr. defeated former Little Rock school district superintendent Baker Kurrus in a runoff on Tuesday, 58 to 42 percent.
Scott will become the first African-American elected to lead Little Rock, a city that was at the center of the school desegregation crisis 60 years ago. Though he will become only the third African-American to hold the office, following Charles Bussey and Lottie Shackleford who were elected by city directors.
Scott’s election validated his campaign message of unity in a city facing deep and prolonged divisions. Throughout the race, Scott talked passionately about being a “proud son of southwest Little Rock” who understood the tension in the city and who was committed to healing old and new wounds.
Hey Little Rock, #ItsTime
— Democratic Party of Arkansas (@ArkDems) December 5, 2018
Scott’s election makes him 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 and Kurrus advanced to a runoff last month after Scott won a plurality of votes in a five-person race but a few percentage points shy of the 40 percent needed to win outright. Both Scott and Kurrus ran on a promise of change. Stodola, the outgoing mayor, was first elected mayor in 2006.
“It’s not a black or white thing with me,” said Lula Binns, a 75-year-old black retiree who voted for Scott. “It’s just time for some younger blood.”
Scott’s election comes after a year where African-Americans have made gains elsewhere in Arkansas. Pulaski County, where Little Rock is located, this year elected its first black sheriff and clerk. Several other Arkansas cities have also elected their first black mayors this year.