Analysis: Bill Christensen announced his candidacy for mayor months ago and yesterday former-mayor Kathy Taylor (who declined to run after one term) announced she will campaign again. Most Tulsans expect Mayor Dewey Bartlett to fight to retain his office, but his answer at the moment is “don’t interrupt, I’m working.”
More important than who runs, if you don’t mind a huge lack of preference, is what are the issues of the Mayor’s race and how will each candidate define Tulsa’s future?
Councilor G.T. Bynum in last Tuesday’s annual meeting of the LaFortune Park Plaza Neighborhood Association said the City Council was “trying to get the new infrastructure funding package done before all the mudslinging begins.” The crowd laughed, but he wasn’t joking. No offense to Bynum, but politicians are always slinging mud and trying to get a new infrastructure tax increase. The one they want to replace now is the expiring 2008 Fix-Our-Streets program due to end in 2014.
Public infrastructure (bricks and mortar of any community) is best done locally, but the candidates for mayor have other broader questions that even the best statesmen often hesitate to discuss clearly with constituents.
Christensen, at present, is pandering to concerns of public safety. The question is if he will target the demographic issues that concentrate large numbers of impoverished people together or if he will just shill for the police union. Regardless, he will have help from media that believes fear for personal safety, especially in the elderly, makes compelling news.
Tulsa certainly upgraded facilities during Taylor’s term when City Hall moved to fancy digs and a new ballpark downtown opened. Never mind that those and several other deals stunk to high heaven, the daily newspaper loves her.
Mayor Bartlett spent the majority of his first year in office putting out fires Taylor left burning hot.
As John Lloyd wrote recently for Reuters, “A constant and frequent complaint about journalism is that it concentrates almost exclusively on what is happening now, and not the future… the trend in a lot of the media is toward more scandal, more controversy and more opining. There are publications and broadcasts and news agencies (such as this one) that are wedded to objective reporting, investigation and rational analysis, but they are in the minority, and a lot of them are finding it hard to make a living these days.
“Fulfilling that ‘Sunday best’ definition of our job means, more than ever, looking into the future. Not to pronounce on things we can’t know…but to focus on the long-term strategic issues that set the context within which politicians and institutions plan and which will be of enormous importance to us, and even more, our children. Understanding, describing and making intelligible these large questions is holding power to account, is informing the citizenry, is covering the significant,” Lloyd added.
As Lloyd notes, even an incomplete list of issues carries opportunity and risk but the call is to broadly consider the future at least as much as we consider the present. Lloyd co-founded the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford, where he is Director of Journalism. With credit to his inspiration; the following are flights of imagination on futuristic issues for those that would lead, love and live in Tulsa:
There is a growing distrust of government at every level which challenges the provision of authoritative leadership in the “gotcha” age. How can local governments grow trust?
At what point did private property rights from “nature or nature’s God” give way to planners exercising government force for the greater collective as seen in Tulsa’s small area plans?
All economy is regional yet Tulsa’s government and media coverage increasingly drives myopic policy paths comparable to the historic “Ward Politics” made famous in Chicago. How can we better advance regional goals critical to economic health in every neighborhood?
Tulsa’s population is becoming increasingly urbanized. How should that impact planning and development?
Tulsa now has a downtown entertainment district for “hipsters,” but Arkansas River Development promising much greater economic return on investment is stalled. Why?
Abundant mental health services in Tulsa increasingly draw patients from throughout the region, but the current standard of care focuses on medication with minimal direct supervision in neighborhood settings. This allows patients to pop-off in violence against their own families, caregivers and sometimes in the massacre of innocents. How can we best protect ourselves?
The Federal government has a spending addiction that may cause the collapse of the currency, what would Tulsa and Oklahoma do should that happen?
An immediate direct threat of national attack is an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) from a nuclear weapon fired from a ship off our coasts that would explode above destroying all electronics. Should electronics and the mechanics that depend on them fail; what is the city plan? During cold war drills we practiced hiding under the desk at school. What should be done for this threat few consider as Iran practices firing rockets from the holds of their ships at sea?
Does Tulsa have the water sources we need for the 22nd Century?
Will Native American Tribes purchase the remainder of Oklahoma? How can we work together with the Native Nations and will they work with us as equals?
As the accelerating speed of change continues, how will public institutions and administrators adapt? Are we ready for the future?
Should a mayoral candidate speak on long-term challenges for our community or just stand in front of a burning building and talk about how fire can be dangerous?
In the coming months, we shall see.