An assistant to former Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth has thrown her hat in the ring and announced she will be a candidate for the City Council. Joni Alexander said at a news conference Thursday that she will challenge Alderwoman Thelma Walker in Ward 1. Walker announced earlier this week that she would be seeking another term.
“Pine Bluff is on the brink of recovery,” Alexander said in announcing her candidacy before a crowd of about 30 at the Plaza Hotel. “However, on that road to recovery, we're still facing some issues that must be addressed in order for our city to move forward.”
She said that almost 50 percent of the young people in Pine Bluff live below the poverty level line, and while crime is down, “we are still over 12 times the national average per capita, and this year hasn't even ended yet.”
“We have blight and overgrown lots in every neighborhood and every thoroughfare,” Alexander said. “All of these affect our city's economic development.”
Alexander also talked about her desire to give back to the community, citing the creation of Youth Empowerment Services, a non-profit that advocates for youth, as well as being program director of SOAR, an after school program focusing on teaching young people to be better citizens. She is also involved in other youth-related organizations.
Alexander said that while she worked for Hollingsworth, she saw signs that the city was on the brink of recovery, and since leaving the city, said she has seen that under current Mayor Shirley Washington as well.
“Yet we all know there's more that we must do,” Alexander said. “And it won't be easy. Now is not the time to think small. Pine Bluff is waiting for new hopes, new energy, and innovation. In order to achieve this, we need new and effective leadership. Leadership with big and bold ideas.”
Alexander said that leadership will result in a city where blight and overgrown lots will not be tolerated, and people from out of town that own those lots will be held accountable. That new leadership will also partner with schools and universities to implement civic engagement in young people, such as holding mock elections in schools and educating students about how city government works.
“That way, no longer will it be possible for an elected official to win an election without appealing to our young people,” she said.
Alexander also talked about economic development, citing the more than 70 percent of favorability for Go Forward Pine Bluff when it passed by voters in June.
“Yes I care about all of Pine Bluff, but I'm a little biased to Ward 1, and Main Street is a part of Ward 1,” she said. “If one ward thrives, the City of Pine Bluff thrives. Why not Go Forward?”
Alexander said one of the biggest complaints she heard while working at city hall was constituents who said no one ever followed up on their calls. She said it would be nice if someone called that constituent and followed up by explaining city procedure.
“By simply modernizing and updating our systems within city government, we can more effectively serve our citizens,” Alexander said.
She also cited the importance of keeping citizens informed about city business by communicating with stakeholders, attending Neighborhood Watch meetings, partnering with civic organizations and collaborating with churches in the ward.
“That way, we can update our citizens on current issues and stop this culture of fact-less nonsense,” Alexander said. “Take away the platform of so many people talking loud and saying absolutely nothing.”
“All these things I've mentioned are realistic,” she said. “With effective leadership that is a city that we can build together, and I ask you to join me in this campaign to build a future that works for all of us. Let's be the change in time, the catalyst that makes future generations proud of what we did here. This campaign is about restoring our sense of common purpose and realizing that few obstacles can withstand the power of our community working together. It begins here and now.”