Director Hutchings steps out of Fort Smith mayoral race, cites church responsibilities

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 1,032 views 

Fort Smith Director Don Hutchings has reversed course on his plan to run for mayor. He’s also not running for re-election to his city director post. The senior pastor at Evangel Temple cited work on the church as a reason for his change of heart.

His decision, made public via Facebook on Tuesday (Feb. 27), leaves the mayoral race to two announced candidates: University of Arkansas at Fort Smith student Luis Andrade, and Rep. George McGill, D-Fort Smith. McGill is not running for re-election to the legislative seat.

“Due to the heavy demand of building our new $5 million church facility, I am not running for mayor. It’s just not the right time. Maybe in four years,” Hutchings noted on Facebook. “The election isn’t until Nov. 6, so there will be plenty of time for other candidates to get in the race. May 31 is the deadline to file. Thank you for the hundreds of encouraging friends who made this process so enjoyable.”

Fort Smith Mayor Sandy Sanders is retiring after his second term ends on Dec. 31, 2018, and he had endorsed Rep. McGill prior to Hutchings’ initial announcement he planned to run for mayor. The Fort Smith mayoral job pays $10,000 a year, with a $450 monthly auto allowance.

Hutchings, 60, told Talk Business & Politics Tuesday night that he plans to run for mayor in four years, but completing the church, growing the children’s services program and other church jobs were consuming “too much energy, too much time.” He also confirmed he will not seek re-election as city director.

“I tried to make it work to live in two worlds but it just became too much,” he said.

In announcing his mayoral bid, Hutchings cited his church experience as an advantage.

“My style is a little different. Forty years of serving as a pastor has taught me how to turn problems into solutions,” Hutchings said in November.

Neal Martin is the only announced candidate for the position 7 at-large seat now held by Hutchings. Martin ran unsuccessfully against Director George Catsavis in 2016 for the Ward 4 post. Catsavis won the general election with 55.9% of the vote.

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.