Meet the mayor 

Can Mark Stodola put some power into LR's top job?

click to enlarge OLD AND NEW: Jim Dailey (left) and Mark Stodola.
  • OLD AND NEW: Jim Dailey (left) and Mark Stodola.

It is to Mark Stodola’s credit that he didn’t get up in disgust and walk out on our interview. He could surely smell my fear.

After six years as a reporter — six years which have seen me interview neo-Nazis, Bigfoot hunters, governors and ex-governors, swingers, strippers, preachers, UFO abductees, rappers, killers, Christian fundamentalists, ex-cons, gangsters, crystal meth dealers and former Pulaski County Sheriff Tommy Robinson — it is a measure of my salt-of-the-earth upbringing that the only thing that gets me rattled anymore are elected officials. I can talk to pretty much anybody, unless they get a few votes thrown their way during an election year. Put me in a room with a politician, and I devolve into one of my tiara-worshipping ancestors, avoiding eye contact for fear The Man is going to toss my kith and kin off our patch of ’tater-strewn dirt.

During my interview with Stodola before his inauguration as mayor of Little Rock, I stuttered and spit. I “um”-ed and “ah”-ed. Right in the middle of asking him his opinion on the interlocal jail agreement, I had an eye-watering coughing fit that went on so long a secretary from an adjoining office poked her head in to make sure I wasn‘t going to die.

Stodola (though he was duly and certifiably elected by that time and thus owed me nothing) was courteous throughout, helping me unravel the tangled questions I posed, even though some of them were about as convoluted as the instructions to a 19-function wristwatch. I left his office convinced of what I had heard in passing, though I never quite believed it: he is a genuinely nice guy.

That Stodola has managed to keep his good humor is a bit amazing in itself. Though he managed to pull out a decisive win in a four-way race for mayor back in November, the weeks since Election Day have swirled with controversy for both him and the city he would soon lead. Stodola’s lobbying and law firm work — important for him even after he takes office, considering the part-time salary that goes with the title of Little Rock Mayor — has been put under the microscope, dissected for every nuance of conflict of interest. Too, Stodola will don the mayoral sash in the midst of a government scandal, with a series of above-the-fold stories and editorials on questionable spending at the Little Rock Advertising and Promotion Commission gracing the state’s largest daily paper, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, in the weeks leading up to Inauguration Day.

Still, Stodola has kept more than his quick and boyish grin. A big-picture guy who doesn’t miss the details, he hasn’t forgotten the ambitious plans he laid out during his run for office. With an agenda that includes workable ideas for rebuilding the city core, bringing down the crime rate and possibly seeing the office of mayor given true executive powers like veto and appointment authority, the former Pulaski County prosecutor has his work cut out for him, especially given the notoriously weak and mostly ceremonial position he has been elected to. (The mayor — Stodola succeeds Jim Dailey, who didn’t seek another term — chairs City Board meetings, but, in the end, is just one vote among 11.)

Still, if anybody can pull it off, it might be him.

Because, he says, his parents didn’t have the good sense to conceive him in Arkansas, Mark Stodola was born on May 18, 1949, in Minneapolis to a camera salesman and his schoolteacher wife. Soon after, the young family moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where Stodola grew up.


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