Photo: Todd Gill, Fayetteville Flyer
Three candidates who hope to win the upcoming City Council election in Ward 2 participated in a public forum held Wednesday evening inside the Fayetteville Public Library’s Walker Community Room.
Council member Mark Kinion sat alongside Raymond Burks and Martin Bemberg in front of a crowd of about 20 people in an hour-long question-and-answer-style forum moderated by Taylor Shelton, the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce’s director of government affairs.
Meet the Candidates
The following candidates have responded to a request from the Fayetteville Flyer for more information about their candidacy in the Nov. 6 election.
Ward 2, which is typically associated with the downtown and Dickson Street areas, includes portions of the University of Arkansas campus and stretches west past Garland Avenue to Asbell Elementary School, and north to the Washington County Fairgrounds. The ward also includes the businesses along College Avenue in midtown, and many historic districts including Wilson Park.
Burks, 34, works as a support manager for Walmart on Campus.
He told the crowd he decided to run after noticing the construction of several larger housing complexes in town over the past few years, and said the city should have better planned for all the growth.
“A lof of the new housing that’s sprouting up is either for students that are coming into town or for folks who work for a (Walmart) home office or vendors,” said Burks. “There’s nothing that’s in the middle for those of us who work in retail, customer service, labor, or who work for the university.”
Burks said big developers are raising property values and rents to satisfy the demand from students and transplants. That growth, he said, has come at the expense of the local culture and character and has led to fewer housing options for Fayetteville citizens.
Burks said the City Council should be focused on issues like the safety of residents and the homeless population, who don’t have any designated areas to survive, which he said has led to trespassing, loitering and homeless people sleeping in public areas like the city’s trails and entertainment district.
Instead, he said the council seems to be more in favor of “pet projects” like the upcoming Cultural Arts Corridor, which he said will be repeatedly vandalized, and the construction of more public trails that he said will be dimly lit and unsafe for residents.
Kinion, 61, is a mortgage loan officer who has served on the council since 2011.
He said he wants to continue to build upon the initiatives he’s been a part of and the record he’s amassed for nearly eight years as a member of the City Council.
Kinion said the idea that Fayetteville doesn’t have a vision or a plan for growth is incorrect. He pointed to the city’s economic development plan, energy action plan, parking master plan, solid waste master plan and 20-year water plan.
Despite its growth, he said Fayetteville has not lost its character and is still an inclusive and diverse community that offers opportunity for everyone. He mentioned a recently adopted plan to welcome foreign-born residents to town as proof that the city’s residents continue to look after one another.
Kinion said Fayetteville’s beauty and environment are still intact, and that the record will show he’s worked hard to protect the natural characteristics that make the city so unique.
He said it’s imperative that Fayetteville continue to support projects like the Cultural Arts Corridor which contribute to the city’s deeply rooted creative economy.
“If you think that cultural arts are not a part of Fayetteville, then I don’t think that you know Fayetteville,” Kinion said. “Fayetteville is a cultural arts center and we should embrace this as part of our heritage and we should use this as an anchor.”
Bemberg, 30, is a longtime Fayetteville musician and socialist activist.
As a radical democratic socialist, Bemberg said he doesn’t expect to gain any support from the Chamber of Commerce, who organized the event.
“I’m proud to say I have no chance in hell of getting the endorsement of the Chamber of Commerce, that’s not how socialist candidacy works,” Bemberg said. “But thanks for having me anyway.”
He said he believes in more democratic control of the economy, a more socialist form of government, and public ownership of all utilities.
He outlined a five-point plan he’d push, which includes creation of affordable housing by right, a standard living wage, a jobs guarantee program, a robust public transit system and abolition of police and prisons.
Bemberg said instituting a municipal income tax and using money generated from the city’s wealthiest residents could help pay for each of his proposed initiatives.
He said Fayetteville needs a City Council member with radical ideas who isn’t afraid to present an extreme alternative to its traditional left-leaning local government.
If elected, Bemberg said he’d be committed to protecting the rights of working-class people, women and minorities, and he’d bring the same passion to the council that led him to protest white nationalism in Charlottesville, Va. last year.
“We don’t just need people who make good decisions and who we can count on,” said Bemberg. “We need someone, like me, who will not only sit on the council and make decisions, but who will also galvanize and mobilize people.”