Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of articles on candidates for Pine Bluff mayor.
After seeing his efforts to reduce crime in Pine Bluff get little attention from city officials, John James Jr., decided it was time to take another approach and run for mayor of the city.
On Nov. 6, James will be among nine candidates running for Pine Bluff mayor. Other candidates include incumbent Mayor Carl A. Redus Jr., Kent Broughton, Tim Whisenhunt, Debe Hollingsworth, Clarence Davis, Peter Daniels Jr., and Aldermen Thelma Walker and Steven Mays***.
James was one of the organizers of the Take Back Pine Bluff campaign that sprang up following the death of Walter Ashley Jr., who was killed outside the Three Gables Nightclub last November.
“I grew up in the neighborhood and was friends with his brother,” said James, who lived in the Dollarway area and graduated from Dollarway High School. “We’ve been on the streets now 37 weeks trying to make the community aware of crime and violence,” James said, adding that his group still goes out on weekends, holding signs and passing out literature.
“When I announced for mayor, the publicity died down a bit,” said James, 31.
Because of the Take Back Pine Bluff movement, he started attending Pine Bluff City Council and Public Safety Committee meetings and “all of the officials had been there 15 or 20 years and they didn’t do anything but talk.”
James said that he wrote an action plan including how to get various groups like Neighborhood Watch involved.
“As far as I know, no one looked at the plan or took it seriously,” James said. “No one took up the challenge to help us.”
He said the only support Take Back Pine Bluff got from the city was from Assistant Police Chief Ivan Whitfield, who sent police cars out to the sites where the group was protesting or picketing clubs like the Three Gables.
“Other than that, we got zero support,” he said.
James also discussed a comment Redus made during a recent candidate forum when he cited his experience in managing the city’s finances.
“It takes more than somebody with knowledge of a checkbook and how to move money around on paper,” James said. “It takes someone who knows how to engage people on every level.”
“Our population is down and pushing numbers or paper is not going to change what is needed in Pine Bluff,” James said.
He described himself as “someone who likes to get involved,” and believes that is what is needed from the next mayor.
“If we’re going to campaign against crime, we’ve got to go to the public and ask them to help the police,” James said. “We need to push a street agenda. We need groups to go into the neighborhoods and I’m going to push an agenda reducing crime 365 days a year.”
He said to make that work, “people need to know how it’s going to effect them if they do buy into the idea.”
Talking about economic and community development, James said he had a three point plan to improve conditions, beginning with a jobs package.
“We’re going to take advantage of the resources we gained from the three-eights cent sales tax (for economic development) and build an incentives package, then offer it to target industries we want to come here,” James said.
Asked if that wasn’t something the Economic Development Alliance for Jefferson County was already doing, James said, “As mayor, I am going to work closely with the Alliance, and we’re also going to have a committee to go out and sell these packages to industries.”
The third part of his plan involves an aggressive campaign to improve the image of the city.
“Perception is reality and if people perceive there is crime and violence here, they won’t want to come here,” James said. “We’re going to be campaigning 365 days a year on crime reduction, economic development, and community development.”
Recently, James said he had not intervened in the lawsuit filed by Redus attempting to stop the 2012 mayoral election, and did not plan to. Redus had argued in a lawsuit filed in September that because the population of the city had dropped below 50,000 in the last federal census, the proper time to hold a mayoral election would be in 2014, and that he should be allowed to serve another two years after his present term expires at the end of this year until a successor is selected and qualified.
Last week, a circuit judge ruled against the suit, ordering the election to continue as planned Nov. 6.
Before the judge’s ruling, James had said: “That law has been around a long time and if the judge who was appointed to hear the case determines it is legal, so be it. If he says it’s not legal, we’re going to go forward as planned.”
A former Marine, James received an associate degree is business management from Southeast Arkansas College and is currently attending the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff where he is majoring in finance.
***This article has been updated from its original version to correct a name misspelling.