Hundreds crowded into the Judge Isaac C. Parker Federal Building to witness former State Rep. George McGill, D-Fort Smith, be sworn in as the first African-American mayor in Fort Smith’s history.
The inauguration was delayed to allow those wishing to attend the chance to get through security at the federal courthouse, filling both the third-floor courtroom where the inauguration occurred and a first-floor courtroom where the inauguration was broadcast through a live-feed to capacity.
“Today we’re all participating in living, breathing history. This ceremony highlights the fact that each of us is called to serve as a caretaker for a small portion of our shared story,” McGill said in his speech. “We are responsible for the actions we take and the example that we set for generations to come. I clearly recognize the enormous amount of trust each of you has placed in me.”
McGill said it was significant that his inauguration occurred at the courthouse, close to the part of Fort Smith where he grew up, only a few miles away from the segregated Lincoln High School that he attended and only a few steps from the U.S. National Cemetery, where American soldiers are buried.
“We are on the cusp of powerful and lasting transformation — if we follow the example of our heroes in the National Cemetery and move forward with confidence and faith in one another,” he said.
McGill cautioned everyone to not dwell on the past but to look toward a bright future for Fort Smith, the second largest city in Arkansas.
“Because of your support, we’ve entered a new day in Fort Smith and all things are possible,” McGill said. “With your resounding vote on Aug. 14, you decided to set aside the paralysis of the present and move confidently into the future.”
McGill won the Aug. 14 mayoral election with just under 57% and 4,313 votes to former Southside Principal Wayne Haver’s 33% and 2,503 votes and 23-year-old University of Arkansas at Fort Smith student Luis Andrade’s 10%, or 763 votes.
At his inauguration, McGill said as the new mayor he would not be able to solve every problem of every citizen in the city, but he would try his best to set an example of which Fort Smith, Arkansas and the nation could be proud.
“Our city will become a forward-thinking organization that is innovative, transparent and establishes a culture of outstanding customer service,” McGill said, adding that the Fort Smith he envisions will support growth, culture and education and will focus on public health and safety, especially for children and seniors.
“We will find ways to reduce the costs of fees and of doing business,” McGill said. “We will be vigilant about retaining and encouraging our existing employers of all shapes and sizes.”
McGill was visibly emotional as he described how it felt to be given the keys to the mayor’s office, first describing many times when he received keys in his life, starting with those to his first car.
“But these, these are the keys to my city,” McGill said. “Nothing can hold us back from a limitless future. … I am giving the key to this city to each and every citizen of Fort Smith. … Nothing can hold back from a limitless future. … This is the start of a new trip.”