I’m just saying, I’m just saying

Copyright 2008 Ben S. Pollock

An evaluation of the run-off candidates for mayor of Fayetteville, Arkansas. The election is Tuesday the 25th, and early voting is under way. Though not today: The courthouse is closed.

Brick never makes endorsements. Still, comments I’ve avoided should be made. The incumbent Dan Coody wants a third four-year term and faces a surprisingly strong battle from Alderman Lioneld Jordan. I have good friends who strongly and publicly support both. I respect both guys, but an analysis does cost one of them. In a quote that from the 1994 movie Pulp Fiction, in a rather different context, “I’m just saying, I’m just saying.”

I like the way Fayetteville has been run the last almost-eight years, Dan Coody having been first elected mayor in November 2000. Yes, I’ve only lived in the city since January 1999. The balance of residential development and retail growth with environmental concerns and, crucially, the aesthetic and cultural interests of a full-tilt college town was shaky before January 2001 and has been smooth since. Fayetteville is not simply a home to a large land-grant liberal-arts university with well-educated faculty and sophisticated support staff — a major employer. This is also a city that in recent elections, where party affiliation is declared, consistently votes Republican or the more-conservative Democrat (with exceptions largely among state legislators).

Here is a personal story about incumbent Dan Coody. In the first months of his tenure, Dan effusively greeted me, as well as My Beloved, anytime we ran into him. I was a city editor at The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas with a weekly column. At the end of 2001, a time of national economic tremors (mild compared to the current), I was downsized. A few times in 2002 MB and I were at public events also attended by Coody, and he no longer made a beeline to shake our hands. He even looked past us or through us. Though still a voter, I no longer was a player. I’ve been a journalist for nearly three decades so while this took me by surprise, it did not shock me. I returned to newspaper work in 2003, and after Coody saw me in the newsroom of the Northwest Arkansas Times — he is an official who “happens to drop by” such offices regularly — we were back to the hi-how-are-yous.

Vice Mayor Lioneld Jordan represents Ward 4, wherein lies the manse Shady Hill of MB and myself. In 2005 I was on the board of Temple Shalom of Northwest Arkansas, which at the time was shopping for a property on which to establish a house of worship. The first serious contender for a home was opposed by its neighbors, an issue that came before the City Council. I contacted both Ward 4 delegates. Only Jordan returned my call. He wanted to know the whole story; I don’t know the extent of his prior knowledge. With all my journalism and impromptu speaking skills, I tried to summarize cleanly the issues’ this-then-this and the various they-said-but-it’s-really-like-this’s. For most of an hour, Jordan listened closely, asking solid questions that showed his concentration. At the council meeting he supported Temple Shalom though later the congregation decided it was best to withdraw (and find a better spot).

Thus, I have high regard for Jordan as a truly democratic representative of his constituents. He has an innate sense of fairness and is compassionate to the core. He would represent just about all that I think Fayetteville has already and the potential it should strive for. But after other instances of conversing with him, and watching on television his debates with Coody, I just cannot picture Jordan successfully bargaining on behalf of all Fayetteville citizens with developers, the best of whom have “wily” as a job description.

Coody has proved since early 2001 he has the best interests of an overall Fayetteville at heart. Time and again he has focused on constituent services, landscaping and trails. Last summer neighboring Springdale announced a trail network, and it was withdrawn as soon as property owners objected. That did not even begin to happen in Fayetteville, whose many miles of paths are well-trodded as soon as they’re paved. He head-butts speculators as needed. He doesn’t always win — and his mistakes are well documented — but he operates from intimate knowledge of the building industry. It’s not all Coody, there’s the City Council of course, but he is the CEO of the planning department, not to mention roads, emergency services and the rest, whose staffs answer to him, on our behalf. I don’t have a byline at the Democrat-Gazette, and Brick’s readers number only in the dozens, but in recent years Coody has greeted me heartily every time our paths cross. He never knew I noticed the snubbing. It doesn’t matter; a good politicians does what he does. As a public official, an effective one — and that’s what counts — Coody knows that “all animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.” I’ve come to like the man, yet realistic about how he treats people such as me. Look at the results: national acclaim for a livable small city, and one that’s riding out the current economic mess better than most.

If what is sought is year-in year-out quality, then demonstrated ability and proven results must be respected. That’s not an endorsement. I’m just saying, I’m just saying.

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