In a strong speech that at times seemed more like a lecture on public policy, Pine Bluff Third Ward Council member Ivan Whitfield announced Tuesday night that he is running for mayor.
“For over 35 years, I have had the opportunity to work, to share, to live in this great community,” said Whitfield, who also served as the city’s police chief for more than a year and was on the force for more than three decades. “I have touched the lives of many citizens. I have been fortunate enough to be with them on sunshiny days during graduations, birthday parties and babies being born.
“I have been able to be with those families on their dark days … when sickness occurred, when they had a loss of a loved one, a loss of employment. But whether it was through good days or through bad days, it has helped me to develop the heart of a servant.”
Whitfield made his announcement at the Masonic Lodge in front of a crowd of friends, family and supporters. He said that he has been encouraged to run for mayor on issues such as the city’s poor drainage system.
“I have listened to the business owners small and large as they talk about the loss of population,” Whitfield said. “They have asked and talked about the drainage, unemployment and the school district. They are concerned about the increase in our crime rate. But I stand here today to tell you that these issues and others … we can address them if we are willing to accept change.”
Whitfield said he is optimistic about the benefits “we will share and the results of our community working together once we embrace change. We can achieve our goals when we embrace change. I stand here today ready to lead this great city in this change.”
Whitfield also said that the city needs to hire an economic development specialist, because “if we hire our own who will help keep our businesses here and recruit others, it’s a must.”
The alderman also spoke about the need for more youth programs and the redevelopment of the city’s housing infrastructure.
“Every home with a good foundation should not be torn down. Everyone cannot afford a $100,000 home. We also need to develop a strong relationship with the school district. I know the city can’t mandate anything, but those are our babies. We must ask them to do all they can to help our children.”
As for running against Mayor Shirley Washington, who has already announced her intention to seek re-election in 2020 and who hired Whitfield as chief in 2017, he said that she told him more than a year ago that God wanted her “to run one time,” then she would go back into retirement.
“Months later, I sent a text to the mayor to say that I was running for Third Ward alderman,” Whitfield said, adding that he told her “If I am blessed enough and God allows me to be Third Ward alderman, I will have to years under your leadership, and when you leave, I will be in a position to run for mayor. That was my conversation (with Washington).
During a ceremony to announce that Whitfield had been hired to lead the department, Washington spoke highly of him.
The mayor used letters forming the word “chief” to describe Whitfield.
“C” represented the character he had demonstrated during his 34 years on the job; “H” represented the honor and integrity he has displayed during a variety of assignments since graduating from the Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy in 1984. The letter “I” represented the initiative Washington said Whitfield has always demonstrated by taking actions that were necessary, and the letter “E” represented execution of actions to keep the city safer.
Finally, the letter “F” represents faithful, as Washington said Whitfield has been to the community, his family and his church.
In closing his announcement speech, Whitfield told those gathered at the Masonic Lodge that, above all, he is stands “ready today to lead this great city … the knowledge I have of the challenge that is before us and the call to change that is within us will make this city and all of us prosper in our community. It is time to tell our children they no longer have to leave this city to grow and succeed.”