April 18, 2024

Last month city councilman Ivan Whitfield read a “smoking gun” letter in a city council meeting. The letter solicited funding for a new GOP-funded PAC to influence the Democratic Primary elections in May. The letter was signed by resident and non-resident business owners, leaders and individuals—and solicited $10,000 campaign contributions per candidate to control each ward seat.

Republican interface in the Democratic Primary is nothing new. Local Republicans have encouraged cross-over voting in the previous Democratic Primary elections for years.

Ivan Whitfield (Ward 3) was alarmed because this letter represents a coordinated effort to interfere in the Democratic Primary to capture control of the Pine Bluff city council. In addition, the PAC targets Pine Bluff city council members for exercising their independent best judgment on operating the city for the benefit of all residents. Joni Alexander (Ward 1) said that she did not like the letter because it implied that special interest influenced her votes groups, and were not her own.

Everyone has a right to free speech. And the right to support the political candidates of their choice. However, Go Forward Pine Bluff (GFPB) promoters, recipients and beneficiaries have banded together to raise PAC money to buy political influence. Many of these individuals are not Democrats or don’t live in Pine Bluff. Yet they are spending tens of thousands of dollars to buy influence over the Pine Bluff city council.

Mayor Shirley Washington hesitated to comment on the letter. However, she insisted that everyone has a right to raise money and participate in politics. Afterward, she identified the candidates that she would prefer to work with on city council.

Unfortunately, this story was given minimal coverage in the local press and largely ignored by the business community. However, ensuring a fair and transparent government may be the most important issue in the upcoming primary election. This is why we need independent media outlets covering the news from a different viewpoint. And that’s why we developed and founded the Arkansas Delta Informer —news, views, and insights from a grassroots perspective.

— Michael McCray, CEO of Arkansas Delta Informer

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