Thursday, January 1, 2009

NWAT news-maker of the year

From Ward 4 to mayor's chair: Jordan is newsmaker of 2008
BY DUSTIN TRACY Northwest Arkansas Times
Posted on Thursday, January 1, 2009
For Mayor-elect Lioneld Jordan, 2008 was a year of choices.

Should he recommend the city of Fayetteville enter an interlocal ambulance agreement? Should he vote to support SouthPass? Does the city need a property tax increase? Should he run to hold onto his Ward 4 alderman seat or run one step higher for the mayor's seat?

The decision made on that last question was the difference between being just another Fayetteville politician and being named the Northwest Arkansas Times' newsmaker of the year.

"I had been considering running for mayor since early 2007," Jordan said. "We went through just such a turbulent time in 2007."

Jordan said the year prior, he dealt once again with property tax increase proposals and he worked hard to see an ordinance on road impact fees pass, only to see it voted down.

"That took a lot out of me," Jordan said.

In October of 2007 Jordan said several friends approached him about running for mayor.

"I felt I could run for alderman again. I felt confident I could win that," Jordan said.

But he also thought there might be a lot of support for him if he decided to seek the mayor's seat. He and a few friends put out some feelers to confirm that thought. A month later Jordan started putting a campaign team together that included former Fayetteville Alderman Don Marr and University of Arkansas communication profes- sor Steve Smith, both longtime friends of Jordan's.

"We had determined in December that we would make an announcement [that Jordan was going to run for mayor] in February," Jordan said.

A few distractions popped up in January. Jordan, who chaired the Fayetteville Ambulance Committee, was pushed to make a recommendation to the City Council on an interlocal ambulance agreement proposed by Washington County and Central Emergency Medical Service Inc.

"I know people were impatient, but at the end of the day Fayetteville pretty much got the best ambulance service available," Jordan said about the agreement reviewed by his committee for almost two years.

By the time February rolled around, Jordan had collected a very diverse team to help him run his grassroots campaign. Jordan added that putting together diverse groups is one of his specialties. He made his official announcement in March.

And so the campaign had started. Jordan said the road wasn't easy.

"We had no money. We never had any money. The bulk of our money came from people giving us $25 and $50 donations," he said. "We did it on shoe leather determination."

Up until April Jordan only had two opponents, a couple of local businessmen, Jeff Koenig and Walt Eilers. But at the beginning of that month the competition got a bit stiffer when former Arkansas Attorney General Steve Clark announced his intentions to run. Jordan said that after that announcement he told his team that they had their work cut out for them.

In May Jordan was out walking door to door working the campaign trail. He said it was not unusual to start campaigning at 5 a.m. and work till 11 p.m. By July Jordan and one of his best friends, Larry West, had contacted 3,000 voters via doorto-door campaigning.

But another twist to a bumpy year happened in July. Incumbent Mayor Dan Coody decided to seek a third term in the office. Jordan said he expected that to happen.

"I picked the month and the week (Coody would announce)," Jordan said.

Jordan said he wasn't worried. He said the doorto-door polling was showing that Fayetteville wanted a change in its highest office. In October the campaign got a gift when it received the endorsement of the Fayetteville Fire Fighters Association and the Fraternal Order of Police.

"That was a tremendous lift for us," Jordan said.

The race got hotter when the candidates, six in all after Koenig dropped out and Sami Sutton and Adam Fire Cat jumped in, started debating. Jordan said he was unsure how well he would do in the debates but felt he had always been a good public speaker.

The campaign went on. More and more people started getting behind Jordan and his "citizen-oriented, transparent-government" ideals. College students, firefighters and police officers, even Jordan's wife and kids, were all going door to door. By the end of the campaign Jordan said his crew had contacted about 20,000 voters door to door.

"It wasn't any single group or any single person," Jordan said. "It was everybody helping out."

Push came to shove on the night of Nov. 3, the eve of the general election. With six candidates it was a near impossibility that any one candidate would acquire the 50-plus-1 percent needed to win the seat, Jordan said he was really hoping he would get into a runoff election.

When the results came in, Jordan trailed Coody by 9 percent. Coody had 37 percent of the votes; Jordan carried 28 percent. That gave the Jordan campaign a jolt of hope.

"We had seen that if an incumbent does not pull at least 45 percent in the general election that he does not win a runoff," Jordan said.

So the campaign was extended three weeks, till Nov. 25. Jordan took a vacation from his job at the UA to focus on the runoff. More debates were in store; this time Jordan spent nearly a full day preparing for each head-to-head run-in with Coody.

"We had to show a difference between myself and the mayor. We had to show there was a need for change," Jordan said. "I'm not a real politician, but I'm a real leader."

On Nov. 25, Jordan was on edge. He said he remembers watching Marr get a phone call from one of the campaign's representatives waiting for the results at the courthouse.

"He picked it up, said something and hung his head before telling me that they had delayed announcing the results for another half-hour," Jordan said.

When Marr got the actual results, he remained emotionless, Jordan said.

"He walked up to me and said very solemnly, 'Just take it easy, I'm going to announce the percentages ... Mr. Mayor,'" Jordan said with a laugh.

And so Lioneld Jordan went from being an alderman starting a grassroots movement to mayor in 2008.

"It was a mandate from the people for change," Jordan said.

The change officially comes at 9 a.m. Friday in the Washington County Courthouse, where Jordan will be sworn into office.

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