Rep. George McGill, D-Fort Smith, wants to be the next Fort Smith mayor in order to bring “common sense leadership” to a city on the “edge of amazing growth.” If elected, he would be Fort Smith’s first African-American mayor.
Mayor Sandy Sanders is not running for re-election. His second four-year term ends Dec. 31, 2018. The Fort Smith mayoral job pays $10,000 a year, with a $450 monthly auto allowance. Luis Andrade, a 21-year-old immigrant from Brazil and University of Arkansas at Fort Smith student, is also running for mayor with a “Make Fort Smith Great Again” campaign slogan.
McGill, is a retired insurance business owner and in his third and final term in the Arkansas House of Representatives representing District 78, which includes a portion of Sebastian County. He is a 1964 graduate of Lincoln High School, and earned a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s in business from the University of Arkansas. He also served in the U.S. Army.
While in the Arkansas House, his roles included assistant Speaker Pro-Tem, and chair of the committee on Aging, Children and Youth, Legislative and Military Affairs.
“For more than 2 years, leadership all across Fort Smith has encouraged me to come home and serve as Mayor,” McGill said in a statement. “The one constant that has come from many conversations about what is needed most in the city is sound, common sense leadership across the board. This applies to every segment of our community. Fort Smith needs a mayor with the experience to get the job done and make a full-time commitment. I have the right experience and a commitment to serve full-time.”
McGill serves on the Board of Visitors of the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith and on the Fort Smith Historical Society Board of Directors. He is a member of the Fort Smith Heritage Foundation and a past board member of the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce, the Fort Smith Boys & Girls Club and the Bost Foundation. He was inducted into the Fort Smith Boys and Girls Club Hall of Fame in 2016.
He also served as a past chairman of the Fort Smith Planning Commission and the Arkansas Contractors Licensing Board. He was a commissioner for the Arkansas Prevailing Wage Commission and a member of the Fort Smith River Front Task Force.
“Together we stand to create a great southern city,” said McGill. “My vision is to see Fort Smith as one of the most desired cities in America. We have the people that can make it happen.”
He said the city’s biggest issues are working through the $480 million federal consent decree to fix the city’s sewer system, funding of the police and fire pension plans, and a conducting city business with a “very restrictive” general fund budget.
“The good news is that in one way or another we will take care of those things. The day-to-day operational matters will come and go. My hope is that the city government will deliver the same quality service we expect from every other entity,” McGill said. “Opportunities abound in Fort Smith and the River Valley. The medical school (Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine) will bring hundreds of millions of dollars to our economy. The strategic development of Chaffee Crossing has almost unlimited potential for extraordinary growth in residential, commercial, and entertainment sectors.”
McGill also said more funding for Interstate 49 and infrastructure on the Arkansas River is critical to growth in the regional economy. Improving the city’s culture is also a reason McGill wants to be mayor.
“My goal is to develop a culture of caring for one another, and that we do it on a daily basis as we breathe and move about in our everyday lives. I love Fort Smith and I refuse to live anywhere else. Fort Smith is resilient and strong. I have seen our city survive natural disasters, the closing of Fort Chaffee as an active military base, and the relocation of a major manufacturer. Yet today we stand on the edge of amazing growth. I will encourage excellence in education and social services,” he said.
ENDORSEMENT, ISSUE OF RACE
Mayor Sanders told Talk Business & Politics he will likely wait until after the filing period to endorse a candidate in the mayoral race.
“I will probably feel inclined to do so. … But I want to see if anyone else enters the race,” Sanders said, adding that he is hearing of a “few other names” interested in what will be an open seat.
As to race being an issue in the election, Mayor Sanders hopes it will have no impact.
“I would hope it would not, but unfortunately in the hearts of some people, that will play into it. And if it does, I would hope it would be a small, bigoted minority and that it would not have any impact,” he said.
McGill also does not believe race will be in an issue.
“For the most part, the good people of this city have not divided ourselves over race. We are living proof that we select the best people to represent us. … There are too many examples to prove that point,” McGill said, mentioning several African-Americans in elected and business leadership positions in the Fort Smith area.
He also reminded that he was the first African-American elected to the Arkansas House to represent Fort Smith, and ran unopposed in all three elections.
“If that (race) was going to be a problem, we probably would have seen it in those (House) elections,” McGill said.
FILING PERIOD, ELECTION SCHEDULE
The filing period for Fort Smith’s mayoral race and for three of the at-large board of director positions begins May 16 and ends May 31.
Candidate packets will be ready around the end of February, according to Fort Smith Clerk Sherri Gard. Mayoral candidates must be qualified electors, must collect 50 valid signatures from registered voters, be 21 years old, and have been a city resident for at least six months. There also is a $10 filing fee.
A primary election will be held Aug. 14 if more than two people enter the race. If no one emerges from the primary with more than 50% of the vote, the top two vote-getters will move on to the Nov. 6 general election.