There’s a four-way race for North Little Rock mayor and bickering has broken out about politicking for one of the candidates, Tracy Steele, who lost a runoff to Mayor Joe Smith in an earlier mayoral race.

Steele, Terry Hartwick, Alice Kunce and Council member Debi Ross are in the race.

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It’s a non-partisan race, but partisan politics are at the heart of the current dispute,.

Kristin Gulley of North Little Rock, the unopposed Democratic nominee for Quorum Court, isn’t happy that Debra Mitchell, a deputy county clerk, has been campaigning for Steele. Since the clerk’s office has responsibility for voter registration and other election duties, Gulley thinks it presents a poor appearance for Mitchell to be openly involved in politics.

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It runs deeper. Mitchell is also active in the Democratic Black Caucus. Gulley, who supports Hartwick, objects to a Caucus member supporting Steele because he endorsed Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson and was rewarded by a job in Hutchinson’s administration. Steele is a former Democratic state senator.

Gulley’s complaint inspired a letter from Sheila Campbell, attorney for Mitchell, asserting her right to speak and campaign as she chooses. Campbell said it “bordered on defamation” to raise a question about Mitchell’s political activities in the context of her public job. “You must immediately cease and desist from making such remarks,” the letter said.

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In response, Gully’s lawyer Chris Burks wrote to Campbell. He acknowledged Mitchell had a right to support Steele, but still questioned her support for him, given his political support of Hutchinson and other activities as a legislator. He contended Mitchell’s attorney was trying to limit Gulley’s free speech by threat of legal action.

It seems likely to get hotter before it’s over. The four-way race probably will produce a runoff, as Steele’s race with Smith did in 2012, so it will be an extended heatwave.