Candidates looking to challenge Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum are campaigning during a summer like no other.
“We are in a really challenging year in Tulsa, with the global pandemic, a national recession, significant budget drops for cities across the state and a tremendous amount of turmoil around longstanding racial issues in our country,” says Bynum, 42, who seeks a second term. “All of that creates an environment where people around the country feel an inclination to step up and get involved.”
Seven of the eight men who filed are running in the Aug. 25 primaries. These include Bynum and newcomers Craig Immel – a pre-construction manager for Jonesplan Landscape Construction; Ken Reddick – owner of Clean Slate Contracting and Tulsa Fence and Roofing Company; Greg Robinson – director of family and community ownership for Met Cares, a nonprofit that serves north Tulsa; Paul Tay – a rental property manager; Ty Walker – co-owner of Wanda J’s Next Generation Restaurant; and Zackri Whitlow – an insurance broker with Whitlow Insurance Agency. The final candidate, Ricco Wright, dropped out in July amidst allegations of sexual misconduct, though his name will remain on the ballot.
The consensus amongst mayoral hopefuls? Tulsa needs a change.
Reddick, 37, says the race is crowded because “there’s that much dissatisfaction with the city of Tulsa. Most are running on a single issue. They are fed up.”
Immel, 44, believes that “there’s a healthy appetite for outside voices. The more people who get involved with the democratic process, the better off we will be.”
One major point of contention amongst contenders is the decision to move forward with President Donald Trump’s June 20 campaign rally at the BOK Center.
Walker, 54, says he would have welcomed the rally had he been mayor.
“I’m ready for [COVID-19 restrictions] to be over with,” he says.
Reddick says he also would have encouraged the rally. However, Robinson, 30, strongly disagreed with the choice.
“It was not an honor to have President Trump in Tulsa on the weekend of Juneteenth in the midst of a pandemic,” he says. Immel agrees that the rally was ill-advised.
“The biggest issue was the public health crisis we are in,” he says. “I would have done everything in my power to not hold that rally.”
Bynum, however, defends the decision.
“The rally was entirely in conformance with the state’s re-opening plan,” he says. “The guiding factor for the whole state has been to make sure there’s enough health-care capacity to take care of those who need it, but rely on businesses to make the best decisions for their facilities. They had systems in place to make it in conformance with the state’s plan, so we proceeded with it.”
Other major talking points include race relations and improving citizen/police relations. After the May 25 death of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police, protests sparked across the country, including in Oklahoma’s two main metros. These protests began just as the Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission was launching a year-long observance leading up to the 100th anniversary of the 1921 massacre of residents of the Greenwood District and Black Wall Street.
Robinson says the city’s role in the observance should be to ensure that justice is done for the descendants of the survivors.
“Not one insurance claim has been paid out,” he says. “The city was, and still is, culpable in the race massacre for not defending the black citizens, and the city has a debt to pay.”
Walker hopes to address these issue as mayor.
“The country is facing division over policing,” he says. “It is vital that our police and citizens feel safe when engaging with one another. Until communities and police can come together and be unified, the public safety of all is in jeopardy.”
Bynum says children growing up in the predominately African-American part of Tulsa have a life expectancy that is 11 years less than in other parts of the city, which he says he has worked to fix in his first term.
“The disparity itself is a symptom of many other things,” says Bynum. “Lack of access to economic opportunity is a big one. We brought the first rapid transit line in the state to that part of the city. Having recreation centers and parks open in that part of the city is a big one. We have worked to re-open them.”
Tay, 57, hopes to bring a new voice to the conversation.
“Here we are in 2020, talking about race relations between north and south Tulsa,” he says. “There is a part of Tulsa that I believe is being ignored. I’m Chinese, and there are almost 10,000 Burmese citizens of Tulsa, and over 60,000 Hispanics that I feel should be heard.”
One matter most candidates agree upon is bolstering small businesses and the city’s infrastructure in the wake of the pandemic.
“Certain sides of Tulsa are just derelict and forgotten,” says Reddick. “To rebuild a community takes long-term partnerships, actual vision and long-term plans.”
Walker agrees: “We want a city that provides beneficial support to small businesses as equally as it does to large corporations.”
Immel says his top issues are education, to reclaim local control of decision-making, and to use technology to drive more civic engagement in local government. Robinson’s vision, he says, is rooted in four core values: freedom, justice, equity and safety for all Tulsans.
According to Zackri Whitlow’s website, he is only seeking one four-year term and believes “we need to create more living wage jobs, improve our schools, and make public safety – gun control in particular – a top priority.”
A runoff election, if needed, will occur Nov. 3. The winner will be sworn into office in December. Each candidate has an official website and/or Facebook page outlining specific goals or plans for the city.