Pine Bluff’s nine mayoral hopefuls started a Thursday night Commercial-sponsored debate at the convention center primarily with recitations of their oft-repeated key campaign messages, but once the competitors warmed up, some verbal punches were delivered.
Many in the crowd of about 150 were openly partial, either for or against individual contestants.
There were also a few humorous exchanges that brought laughter from both the candidates and audience.
Incumbent Mayor Carl A. Redus Jr., who is seeking a third four-year term, drew heat when he expressed his pride in the city’s nearly $4-million reserve, which he said was down to $258,000 when he took office in 2005.
Debe Hollingsworth responded by dissecting the amount and questioning the total, saying the restricted reserve account is currently $1.6 million and noting that the “cap” is $5 million. “I’m curious about the other money,” she said.
Redus asserted that Hollingsworth was providing “misinformation” and told moderator Steve Barnes — a journalist and a Pine Bluff native — that he wanted an opportunity to reply. Barnes told the mayor he would be allowed to state his case when it was his turn, as the candidates were speaking in a randomly-selected order that also determined seating. Redus and Hollingsworth occupied chairs next to one another.
Peter F. Daniels Jr. charged that Redus had given “five different numbers” on the amount of the reserve he inherited from former Mayor Dutch King’s administration.
“It’s clear and has become evident that the citizens of Pine Bluff can’t trust what the mayor says,” stated Daniels.
As tensions increased, Alderwoman Thelma Walker initiated her remarks on the matter by saying, “I’m not sure about the numbers,” amusing the audience and receiving applause. Walker said any extra money the city is enjoying is the result of the public’s tax dollars. “And we appreciate you for that,” she added.
“They haven’t been elected yet and they’re already fighting for the money,” John James Jr. said, receiving the crowd’s approval.
After Redus offered an explanation on his numbers and spoke on the “financial security” he said the city is experiencing, he audibly snickered as Hollingsworth prepared to further address the issue. Hollingsworth lowered her handheld microphone, momentarily paused in silence and then turned toward the mayor before remarking, “Excuse me.” Redus became silent and Hollingsworth followed with a statement.
Alderman Steven Mays said citizens shouldn’t be ignored when considering the city’s funding. “People are out greatest asset” he said.
Clarence Davis said that if taxpayers are the source of the city’s growing monetary reserve, then citizens “should get what we need.”
James said that even if the reserve swells to $10 million, “If we’re falling apart, then it doesn’t matter. Stop fighting over the money. Be wise, Pine Bluff.”
After repeated criticisms of Redus, Barnes asked the mayor’s opponents if he “had really been that bad.”
“I have one minute?” asked Hollingsworth, indicating her answer could consume more time. Tim Whisenhunt indicated Redus had shun his “responsibility” as mayor.
Daniels said Redus had been “inaccessible, arrogant, closed-minded” and had failed to be “responsive” to citizens. “There are nine people running,” Daniels observed. “That means eight won’t be voting for him.”
Walker said she decided to challenge Redus because she had grown increasingly “frustrated” with his leadership style. Kent Broughton accused Redus of being out-of-touch with his constituents.
“You can disagree without being disrespectful,” said James as he glanced toward Redus. Adding that citizens had “lost faith” in the mayor, he told Redus, “It’s time for you to go.”