Editor’s note: The following story is completely updated from the first report.
Until roughly two hours before the filing deadline, the race for Fort Smith Mayor was a two-way between Rep. George McGill, D-Fort Smith, and UAFS student/President Donald Trump supporter Luis Andrade.
Then, former Southside High School Principal Wayne Haver showed up with former Mayor Bill Vines to make his candidacy official after a few days of online rumors and “a couple of months” of consideration, Haver told Talk Business & Politics on Thursday (May 31).
A primary election is held Aug. 14 for races in which more than two people enter. 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. 5 general election. The Fort Smith mayoral job pays $10,000 a year, with a $450 monthly auto allowance.
Haver didn’t specify who, but said a person at his church, “not a political guy at all, came up to me out of the blue and said, ‘You ought to run for Mayor.’ Then other people started telling me, and I’ve been thinking about it all that time.”
Haver said he picked up his packet last Friday, but then was on a band trip to Florida with Southside High School, which he retires from on June 29 after 36 years as principal. During that time, canvassers helped collect the 50 signatures needed on his behalf. Haver returned to Fort Smith on Wednesday night (May 30) at “about 10:30” and made the trip to the city clerk’s office 12 hours later to submit his statement of candidacy.
When asked about the current direction of the Board, Haver said he didn’t “have any issues of my own or any kind of ax to grind or things like that,” stating it was purely a “willingness to serve” that led him to his decision.
Haver is no stranger to civic involvement, having served on the city’s airport commission for over 13 years. Even so, he anticipates learning more about the duties of the position.
“I’ll be in a learning curve to see what the issues are and the things the city needs are as well as some of the projects already started that need to be finished. I will sit down with Mayor Sanders and other people to visit about the issues going on now and those that may come up.”
Haver also wasn’t aware the Mayor race was a three-way until speaking to Talk Business & Politics on Thursday. He said he was aware McGill had submitted his materials and knew Andrade had considered but was unaware he had made the deadline. Haver said he didn’t feel “behind” despite missing the previous Andrade-McGill debate.
“I’m pretty well-known throughout the city, being at Southside for 48 years and dealing with lots of parents and kids, usually in a very positive situation. I also feel like George is well-known,” but as for Andrade’s newcomer status, “He probably has an uphill battle.”
Haver believes the mayor role can make a significant impact on the city of Fort Smith, observing the position “certainly represents the city in lots of things.”
“He’s kind of the face of Fort Smith, and he can be a positive influence on economic development and things like that.”
Talk Business & Politics contacted McGill by phone to ask him about his approach to a three-way race Thursday afternoon. McGill answered and said he would call back, but instead sent a previously emailed statement he’d sent to all media outlets commenting on the race.
“I would like to be the first to officially welcome each of the candidates into the race for Mayor of Fort Smith,” McGill said. “This campaign should be an honorable effort focused on the issues of city government and service to the residents of Fort Smith. Our community has the opportunity to make a historic decision in this election. The hard-earned progress of recent years can be built upon and improved or we can spend time casting blame and dwelling on past mistakes.”
McGill continued: “If we choose that narrow path of negativity, we will end up right back where we started, devoid of practical solutions and still faced with the tough challenges of our region. My campaign will be casting its eyes to the future and I’m looking forward to spending the next few months earning your votes and sharing my positive vision for Fort Smith.”
Talk Business & Politics attempted to contact Andrade via email for comment on the race but had not received a response at the time of posting. He did not leave a phone number for media outlets when submitting materials to the city clerk’s office.