By Maylon T. Rice
The Fayetteville Free Weekly’s choice for 2008 Person of the Year shouldn’t be a surprise. All that our strongest candidate for this yearly honor had to do was beat mayoral incumbent Dan Coody in a late November runoff. And he did, making Lioneld Jordan the Free Weekly’s Person of the Year for 2008.
On election night, Jordan trailed Coody. But in a runoff election a few weeks later, alderman Lioneld Jordan beat the incumbent, who outspent the challenger by a significant amount. And when the votes were counted, Jordan beat the incumbent mayor by a significant margin.
Spending less money, but pressing more flesh and touting his “real deal” rhetoric, Jordan won the seat.
But with Lioneld Jordan, it is more, much more, than rhetoric. Yes folks, for this reason, he was a hands down favorite for the honor. We endorsed him from the beginning, while the two daily papers failed to go with the man who was clearly the “people’s choice.”
“I keep telling those people who have just come to know me,” Jordan said in a laid-back interview during the recent holidays, “I am the ‘real deal.’ What you see is what you get.”
Amidst all the excitement of a new year, and in his new job as mayor, Jordan repeats that mantra to almost anyone who will listen.
“I’m really no politician,” he said with a sly grin. “I don’t like all the posturing or the hiding behind the curtain of power. And certainly there will be no one pulling the strings on me,” he said and laughed.
It is his trademark down-to-earthiness, his gushing honesty and his love for all of Fayetteville. Whether it’s the most rustic neighborhood in the ward, the shiny new subdivision sprouting McMansions or condo central in midtown, Jordan cares equally about them all.
Fayetteville, you see, has been good to Lioneld Jordan. And Lioneld Jordan, again and again, pledges to be good for Fayetteville as a public servant and its newest mayor.
If his last eight years as an alderman is a telling track record — and apparently many of the voters in the last couple of political races have hung their hopes and dreams on that record — Jordan should have an active, yet low key-administration. And that, in a nutshell, is Jordan.
“We are not out to re-invent the wheel,” Jordan said when asked about all these “transition team” meetings. “But there are lots and lots of good ideas out there from the citizens of this city, and by golly, it’s their town too, so there is a good reason to listen to them.”
And if Jordan and his transition team succeed, it will be more than just a listening tour. In his eight years as an alderman, Jordan has never missed a vote. He has held meetings in Fayetteville’s fourth ward, the western side of Fayetteville that he represented as alderman, on a regular basis. He admitted that at times he was worried whether anyone was going to show. But he never stopped trying to reach out to his constituents and to listen to what was on their minds.
Jordan, readily admits he is a different kind of leader than his predecessor. He is also different from many of those whom he has encountered at his regular job at the University of Arkansas Physical Plant. But to Jordan and his legion of followers, that’s a good thing.
“I have to tell you, the three-plus decades I have put in at the Physical Plant I have seen some powerplayers,” he said with a wink of his eye. “Now, not to name names, but if you’ve lived in Fayetteville you know there have been and still are some really powerful people — politically powerfully, financially powerfully and very, very influential people up on the campus.”
Jordan says there are some businessmen and women in Fayetteville who stand up at meetings, roll up their sleeves and suggest that the community needs to get something done.
“ … a lot of heads get to noddin’ and chairs get scraping on the floor to get together on an event, a cause or a campaign.”
Heck, Jordan admits some of the people who flocked to him and asked to join his campaign are the same people he admired as “active sources for good and forward thinkers,” for the betterment of Fayetteville.
But Jordan, like most citizens, thinks that it is advantageous to tone down the clamor of dissenting views and stick with a forward thinking, informed and enlightened approach to city government.
“I have found that most people, even if they disagree with you, if you can explain the position the city has taken or needs to take on a issue for the betterment of the city, most will understand. That doesn’t mean they will agree with that position, but they will understand where you are coming from.”
An Only Child
Born Oct. 13, 1953, in Fayetteville, Jordan is the only child of Earl and Vida Jordan. He was raised out on Cobb Creek in rural Madison County. But he’s not telling tales of splitting logs with a mallet and iron wedge — not just yet.
“I came from a hard-working family, and I chose to work with my hands and made a good living at the UA Physical Plant. Why, there is very little there I have not done.”
During the great Physical Plant workers issues at the UA almost 10 years ago, Jordan leap-frogged from being a worker to a leader when there was a move afoot to outsource some of the duties of the Physical Plant workers. To Jordan it wasn’t just about the jobs he and his co-workers held, but also about the financial impact it would have on the state’s flagship campus.
“It was long ago,” he said. “But it was not just a bad deal for the workers, it would have been a bad deal for the university as well.”
For a classic example of how Jordan hates to be put in a position of putting on airs, one does not have to look too far back in time.
Soon after the election, the Fayetteville Public Library celebrated its 1 millionth checkout—quite a feat. All the library lovers would be there, including Jim Blair, the attorney who donated the lion’s share of the funding for the new library, Mayor Dan Coody and mayor-elect Jordan. A pecking order for a photo shoot was determined by library staffers. Blair would go first. Coody second, followed by Jordan.
Early as always, Jordan spotted a new book, “The Word of The Lord Is Upon Me,” a book about the later Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., by Jonathan Reider. Jordan, who loves historical biographies, grabbed that book and tucked it under his wing for the checkout time.
The festivities came to a climax when Blair would checkout the 1 millionth item for the cameras. A library staffer handed Blair a copy of Roy Reed’s book “Faubus” and the cameras clicked. Next came Coody who was handed a book, title unknown, by a library staffer, then Jordan. As the festivities ended, Jordan was the only one who actually took his book home to read.
“I knew it was a photo shoot, and that’s fine and good,” Jordan said. “But I truly wanted to check out a book and not just be there for a photo op. Now I am very proud of our community for it’s support of the library, but to visit the library and not check out a book is just foreign to me.”
Amid all the profiles of Jordan that have become public lately, Jordan said that some of his harshest media critics have done a good job in portraying him as who he is. But Jordan wants to be remembered as more than a mayor who looked good in print.
“I am about people, the people who work for this city need a team leader who will work with them and listen. The citizens of this community need a good public servant who can become a good leader. And with the pulse of the community, input for the future, our city can continue to grow and thrive and be everything that its citizens want it to be, and more.”