This is the second in a series of profiles of the candidates for Little Rock mayor.
Frank Scott Jr. often reminds voters that he was “born, raised and still resides in Southwest Little Rock.” A banker, pastor, former state Highway Commissioner and former senior policy adviser to Gov. Mike Beebe, Scott, at 34, is the youngest candidate in the five-man race to become the next Little Rock mayor. That he’s amassed an impressive resume at such a young age and is widely considered to be one of the top three mayoral contenders, along with Baker Kurrus and Warwick Sabin, owes to hard work, yes. But Scott says it’s also especially because he was “blessed” with opportunities at certain crucial points in his life.
“You look at a lot of folks I grew up with who are either dead or in jail or not on the right path. I could’ve been just like them. That’s something that sits with me. I don’t forget where I come from, hence the reason why I haven’t left where I come from.”
As vice president at First Security Bank, Scott’s daily commute takes him from his home off Chicot Road in Southwest Little Rock, along Interstate 430 and through the still bustling development of the western stretch of Cantrell Road to the bank’s Little Rock headquarters at Ranch Drive. Scott says the drive is a daily reminder of Little Rock’s inequities.
“We still have deep-seated racial issues in our city that have not been effectively addressed because we haven’t had a leader that truly understands all aspects of the city. We haven’t had a leader that can build bridges in the city.”
Scott’s longtime friend state House Minority Leader and Rep. Charles Blake (D-Little Rock) said Scott has a background that’s unique among the field. “There’s a different scope when you’ve grown up in a system, benefited from the system and seen how it’s hurt you, and know how city government works, how politics works, how south and north of I-630 work.”
Scott points to economic development and diversity and inclusion as areas he’s particularly qualified to address. In some ways, for Scott, those are two sides of the same coin.
“This city represents close to 50
As mayor, he says he’ll be “chief growth officer” for the city. “The mayor has to make certain the city of Little Rock becomes a business-friendly city.” He sees his clients getting businesses going or deals done in Northwest Arkansas in two to three weeks, whereas it often takes two to three months for his clients in Little Rock to make similar projects happen. He says if elected he’ll form a red tape commission to try to eliminate impediments to growth. Little Rock needs to do more to grow its own and take care of existing business owners, according to Scott, but it also should do a better job recruiting. He plans to aggressively target small to mid-sized companies with headquarters in cities with direct flights to and from Little Rock.
Some critics have wondered if Scott, because of his banking career and connections from his time on the Highway Commission, might be too in thrall to
“I’m going to be very blunt,” Scott said in responding to that assessment. “I’m going to be the chief growth officer. I’m going to lead
He’s similarly blunt when asked whether he would like to see Little Rock become a “strong mayor” city, where the duties of the city manager become the
Scott credits his mother, Brenda, for making sure he got the most of his educational opportunities. He remembers her waking at 4 a.m. to wait in line to apply for him to attend Horace Mann, then a magnet junior high, and later making sure that he applied to attend Parkview Arts and Sciences Magnet High School.
Scott kept up with his studies, played tight end and defensive end in football and studied modern dance and ballet in junior high and high school. He said he was drawn to dance when he heard football stars of the day like Ki-Jana Carter and Rashaan Salaam had taken classes to help them with their footwork, but, “I also realized I’d get to hang out with more women,” he said with a laugh. He namedrops famed dancers Vaslav Nijinsky and Isadora Duncan and says he’s still got a plié and fondu in him and remembers ballet’s first, second and third positions, but he’s yet to demonstrate them on the campaign trail.
At 14 years old, Brenda gave birth to Frank Jr.’s older sister. Frank Jr. came along six years later. To support the family, while the couple were still teenagers, Frank Sr. unloaded boxes at Safeway and Brenda worked as a secretary. Frank Sr. went on to become a longtime Little Rock firefighter; he retired a few years back. Because Brenda had to provide for the family during and after she attended high school and wasn’t able to continue her education, Scott said his “mother made damn certain that I went to college.”
He attended the University of Memphis and majored in business. While there, he volunteered for prominent local Democrats like U.S. Rep. Harold Ford* Jr. and pioneering state Rep. Lois DeBerry. During his senior year, his classmates voted him
After graduation, he managed a Target distribution
Kurrus and Sabin have often been identified in the race as the policy-minded candidates. Scott may not talk about it as much in his campaign, but he was a policy wonk during his time in government, working on infrastructure issues and what became the private option, Arkansas’s initial unique version of Medicaid expansion, Beebe said.
“He could delve deeply into an issue and dissect it and point out the pros and cons and potential pitfalls,” the former governor said. “And he had the ability to look forward and around the corner … at what might be the next issue that some policy would suggest. He was a deep thinker, but he was also pragmatic.”
At night during his time working in the Beebe administration, Scott got his master’s degree in business administration from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. He left the governor’s office in 2012 to become a vice president at First Security Bank, where he focuses on commercial lending and strategic development.
In 2013, Beebe appointed Scott to the Highway Commission to finish the term of John Burkhalter, who resigned to run for lieutenant governor. Scott was 29, which made him one of the youngest appointees to the highway commission — and also one of the few black appointees. Scott hadn’t helped bankroll Beebe’s campaigns, either; highway commission appointments traditionally have gone to major political supporters. “He didn’t fit the
But Scott has taken plenty of flak from others for one vote in particular during his time on the commission: his support of the 30 Crossing
Scott said it was important to
As to another form of public safety that’s captured more attention in the mayoral race, Scott said crime in Little Rock isn’t a disease, but rather a symptom of the city not addressing poverty and education. While he’s glad to see the department make strides in filling vacancies, he said the city would need to work hard to fill those positions that, through general attrition and retirement, were likely to come open in the next years. He wants the force to be fully staffed in order to create a culture of community policing, in which officers aren’t just patrolling in their cars, but also on foot. Asked if investigative stops, which earlier in the year had become a
“I’ve got a suit and tie on today,” Scott said. “When I have some [Air Jordan sneakers] and jeans and my LR hat on, and I’m downtown for brunch on the weekend, I may be treated differently [by police if I’m stopped]. We have to have a police force that understands Little Rock and its identity and understands the need for implicit bias training and de-escalation techniques training.” Scott also said he would advocate for the creation of a review committee independent from the police force to consider allegations of police misconduct and police-involved shootings.
Mayor Mark Stodola and the Little Rock Board of Directors have come under fire for not advocating more forcefully for the Little Rock School District. “Within city leadership, we should no longer be silent on educational issues,” Scott said. He said he would push to get the Little Rock School District back under local control, adding that once that happened, he would be involved in recruiting candidates to make sure the school board was as strong as it could be.
Last week Scott rolled out an Opportunity Agenda for education. “What I’ve learned as a banker, the only way you can only have influence over something you don’t own is by becoming a strategic investor,” he said. To that end, he’s proposing that the city fund a summer reading academy to focus on grade-level reading. It would work in partnership with the LRSD, the Central Arkansas Library System and the Arkansas Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. “We know that if a child isn’t able to read by the time they’re in third grade, we’re gonna lose them to the streets,” he said. The agenda also includes plans to establish a chief education officer to serve as a liaison between the city and the LRSD and focusing on truancy, which has become rampant in some LRSD schools.
Asked about charter schools, Scott said it was clear they had an “effect on the LRSD,” but said they were a state issue. “As a mayor, I have to make sure that all schools are positive and there’s no segregation. I don’t have a problem with charter schools … until they start to cherry-pick.”
Scott was in his 20s and working in the Beebe administration before he ventured into the Hillcrest
If there’s a central theme to Scott’s campaign it’s that he’s the person who can unify Little Rock. “We’ve got all these issues before the city, but if we don’t start making significant strides from being disconnected to connected, nothing else matters. That’s
When he gets on a roll, it’s easy to imagine Scott delivering a sermon. He’s an associate pastor and lifelong member of the Greater Second Baptist Church. He preaches at Greater Second Baptist at least once a month and every two months at the Department of Correction’s Tucker Max unit. Because of that background, some have wondered if his notion of equality would extend to LGBT issues. “I’m running to unify the city,” Scott said in response. “That doesn’t only include race or culture; it includes sexual orientation and gender identity. In Little Rock, you have to have one city … and I’ll be a staunch supporter
A previous version of this post mistakenly said Scott worked for U.S. Rep. Harold Flowers Jr. He worked for U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr.