“Timing,” William Shakespeare penned, “is everything.”
That old observation rung true in a Tuesday night mayoral forum at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff when incumbent Carl A. Redus Jr.’s energetic closing statement brought a fast-paced and to-the-point response from one of his eight challengers, Debe Hollingworth, who let it be known that she considered his remarks a personal affront.
Speaking immediately prior to Hollingworth, Redus said the primary question facing voters in the upcoming election is whether the city is “back on good financial footing.” Redus said that it is, as it had been on the brink of insolvency when he took office eight years ago but is now enjoying $3.4 million in reserve funds. Touting his administrative experience, he said that as mayor he has overseen a $30 million annual budget and doubted that any of his foes had managed a budget of more than $1,000.
The audience of about 100 persons, which had been relatively quiet before except to offer several brief rounds of polite applause, seemed to have been stirred. A number of attendees booed and shouted in expressing their disagreement with Redus’ assertion.
Hollingsworth then stood to offer her final statement and indicated that she had prepared other remarks, but would instead contest Redus’ contention.
“I’ll match my past business background with any candidate,” she said and proceeded to point out a number of her professional accomplishments. She said she has worked as a licensed bank examiner for the state, an investment banker at Simmons First, an investment adviser and stockbroker at Stephens Investment Group and Worthen Bank and Trust Company, and has owned and operated wholesale and retail stores here for 32 years while employing up to 250 persons. She added that in the process, she’s managed annual budgets of up to $25 million.
Her remarks garnered applause and cheers, with no rebuttal awaiting Redus.
Other candidates made memorable comments as well, but nothing seemed to have garnered as much interest as the Redus-Hollingsworth finale.
Clarence Davis addressed race relations and said the election “is not about black or white.
“We all come from Adam,” he said. “We’re supposed to love each other.”
Peter F. Daniels Jr. said Pine Bluff’s development is “probably 30 years behind” that of “other progressive cities in the state.” He bemoaned what he deemed an absence of economic development around the UAPB campus.
Alderwoman Thelma Walker disagreed in part, saying she’s proud to have been part of the city’s effort in helping to energize the University Park area. But she cautioned that the city shouldn’t attempt to direct UAPB, but rather be supportive of the institution.
“We need to work with the chancellor,” she said. “We don’t need to try to micro-manage the university.”
Kent Broughton echoed Walker on the concept of the city’s service to UAPB. He suggested that a sound step in boosting University Park might be putting a focus on bringing in businesses offering healthy foods to students.
John James said the city’s backing of UAPB should extract “the highest level of community service from UAPB students.” He challenged students to utilize whatever opportunities might be presented to them in “reaching out” and helping in bringing positive change to the city. James said he would like to see a downtown UAPB student center that would help pull students off campus and more into the entire community.
Tim Whisenhunt said that as UAPB nears its 150th anniversary, it’s critical that the institution remains diversified as it advances. He believes “a technology center that would rival any in the state” is within the university’s grasp, and such a development would aid in bringing new, higher-paying jobs to the city.
Alderman Steven Mays said he’s devoted to downtown’s redevelopment and is willing to personally “help enforce city codes building by building.” He noted that some of the structures are at least 100 years old and he hopes they can all be saved, but fears that some may be beyond repair and should be demolished.