Photo of Ward 6 Candidates
ELECTION: Three candidates are running for the Ward 6 director seat. From left to right, Incumbent Doris Wright, Andrea Lewis, Ellen Brown. Brian Chilson and Mary Hennigan

Long-time Ward 6 Director Doris Wright is being challenged by two candidates looking to take her seat on the Little Rock Board of Directors. Her opponents, Andrea Lewis and Ellen Brown, said in separate interviews that they are ready to bring fresh ideas and new perspectives.

The Ward 6 seat is up for election on Nov. 8, as well as five other director positions and the Little Rock mayor. The city directors represent their constituents and advocate for improvements within their boundaries. Little Rock has seven wards, each with its own director, and three additional city-wide positions.

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Ward 6 was once commonly known as the John Barrow community, but is now often called West Central and includes about 28,000 residents. Its boundaries extend from Cooper Orbit to a section of 12th Street. It also includes John Barrow Road, Colonel Glenn Road and a stretch of Kanis Road.

Wright, 63, has been in leadership for 16 years, a portion of which she also served as the city’s first female African American vice mayor. She said she is most proud of advocating for the development of the $6.4 million West Central Community Center, which opened in 2016 and offers a safe entertainment space for people of all ages with after-school enrichment, financial planning classes, sport leagues and a just-announced medical clinic.

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Photo of Doris WrightBrian Chilson
INCUMBENT: Doris Wright has served 16 years as Ward 6 director.

Going forward, Wright said her top priority was maintaining the neighborhoods in Ward 6 to ensure that they are clean and safe. “But along with that comes resources and activities and places to go and be,” she said. “That’s what this facility [West Central Community Center] does.” 

The center helps deter crime among the youth with its after-school programs that offer a meal, tutoring and activities that help with learning, Wright said. The center’s late hours can also help alleviate some of the stress off of the parents.

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“I would rather you have that kid here,” Wright said. “You take a deep breath, get home, put your feet up for a minute, cook, or do whatever you want to do and decompress — then come and get that child, there’s less likely to be any more stress on that home.”

Wright said she is strategic with her decision making, and will continue to be that way if she is reelected in November. During the interview with Wright, she had several plans and flyers prepared to pull information from.

“I don’t just show up on Tuesday and vote for whatever is on the agenda,” Wright said. “I look at how that affects Ward 6 and the people that elected me to represent them, and to fight for their needs — for their children, for their senior citizens, for their property values.”

During city board meetings, Wright is typically very vocal about improvements for her ward, often challenging the agenda if Ward 6 isn’t included. She has gotten some flak since her proposal for the pandemic relief funds were approved 8-2 against Mayor Frank Scott Jr.’s. Despite the sometimes-combative public interactions between her and Scott, Wright said that going forward, she will work with any candidate who is elected as mayor. She said she is not publicly supporting anyone running.

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Wright said she has no problem with being seen as a warrior. “I have wisdom. I have experience. I have credentials. I have street creds that proves that I know what I’m doing. I believe my constituents trust me; they’ve never seen me do anything but fight for them.”

Concerning economic development, Wright said that she wants to ensure that “the businesses that we do have are viable so that they can remain in business, and that we stimulate the area so that people want to locate a business here.” She also named the all-encompassing need for improved health and wellness in the community “that will address our homeless issue, the behavioral problems that we’re having with mental health issues, the families that are undergoing all the stress, high prices [and] inflation,” she said.

One of Wright’s opponents is Andrea Lewis, a 40-year-old mom of three who works with First Security Bank in community outreach, business development and marketing. She submitted her paperwork to run for the director seat at the “last minute” because she did not want the “extra distractions” that came with media coverage from filing early. She said it was a strategic plan that is working out.

Photo of Andrea LewisMary Hennigan
ANDREA LEWIS is seeking the Ward 6 director seat to bring a new perspective.

Lewis described herself as a “team player” who will “lean on the people before me.” At her age, Lewis would be the second-youngest director should she be elected and she said, “I want the older generation to not feel so threatened by the young — be ready to accept the fact that we want to move forward in their footsteps and get the work done.”

Her campaign has included the traditional yard signs, waving at cars and public appearances. Lewis has taken to social media to get her word out and thank her supporters. She even posted a reaction video to news coverage of Wright stating no one else in her position could do more than she could. Lewis responded, “Watch me.”

Arkansas Community Organizations endorsed Lewis’ campaign. Lewis said she is publicly supporting Scott for mayor, but will work and support any mayor elected because “the ultimate goal is still being there for the citizens of Little Rock.”

Lewis emphasized she would bring a new perspective to the board. “I’m an African American woman who’s raising an African American son,” she said. “I want trust to be brought within the ward and the city as a whole, especially when it comes to African American males.” As a parent, this perspective would extend to park needs and necessary education improvements, she said.

Her top priorities came from her desire to bring the sense of neighborhood back in Ward 6, she said. With public safety, Lewis said she wanted to increase community policing where the residents will know that crime is being monitored, and at a random pattern. She said she hopes that kids will eventually not run from the police, but meet the officers and develop relationships.

Along with this comes the need for police hires. Lewis recognized that hiring officers from within the community would likely bring a sense of pride in the neighborhood and improve patrol “because you’re going to want your area safe — that’s where you lay your head just like the rest of the residents,” she said.

Infrastructure needs came next on Lewis’ list, from speed bumps and street lights to “I want people to take pride in where they’re going. You shouldn’t feel anguish or disgust going home because of some things that need to be better.”

Her future vision for Ward 6 included giving folks from around the city a reason to visit, whether that be with events like a “Taste of Ward 6” or other attractions. “That’s when you increase that sense of family,” Lewis said.

The final candidate in the Ward 6 election is Ellen Brown, a former youth minister and current Heifer International employee. She serves as the racial and diversity chair for the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and is a board member for the Arkansas Coalition for Peace and Justice. Brown is also a foster parent for children in Pulaski County.

Photo of Ellen BrownBrian Chilson
ELLEN BROWN: She says she wants to help balance the age representation on the board as a young director.

This is the first time Brown has run for office, and she said she doesn’t think Wright is representing the ward well. “I believe very strongly that we deserve leadership that listens to, and hears, what our community’s wants and needs are,” she said. “It is time for someone different to come in.”

At 37, Brown would be the youngest member on the board if elected. She said that all stages in life give a new perspective, and the city needs balance. 

“The young working parent is not represented,” she said. “Single parent — not currently represented. As a vibrant and growing city, we’ve got to have representatives that understand what the young folks in our community need.”

Brown said that public safety in Ward 6 was most important to her, and while she said that some work has begun, she would like to work on evidence-based solutions tailored to the community, through the input of the community. She said that she would like to see nonprofit organizations form connections and a referral system that can quickly provide the public with the resources that they need. 

She also named infrastructure as a top priority, specifically around streets and drainage. As heard in public meetings and through talking with constituents, Brown said that flooding issues are big in Ward 6. Instead of making mere replacements, Brown said that she supports environmentally-friendly solutions to improve the surroundings.

“I’m not talking about grass in the ditch, but incorporating vegetation [native wildflowers, for example] and systems where you have several layers of drainage,” Brown said. “It makes the space that would be usually attractive — it helps beautify our city. Having that vegetation there helps with air pollution. Of course, it helps relieve that drainage pressure. Not to get too technical, but it allows the soil to take in more water and helps reduce flooding.”

In talking with Ward 6 residents, Brown said that food deserts are something they’re concerned about. She said her role with Heifer has prepared her with knowledge, experience and creative solutions to work on the issue.

“I would like to see a model where local entrepreneurs are able to have thriving grocery businesses that give access to healthy food to their neighborhood, and provide jobs to those in their neighborhood,” Brown said. “Rather than working with large chains, I believe the answer is working to create small businesses.”

Brown said she is not publicly supporting any candidate for Little Rock mayor. “Whoever is elected, I will be ready to collaborate with them to create positive change,” she said.

Election day is Nov. 8, and early voting starts on Oct. 24. Only residents in Ward 6 can vote for its director.