Inside the front cover of a well-worn, dog-eared, brown folder where G.T. Bynum keeps all his Tulsa City Council-related materials, there is a quote inscribed by hand in dark ink.
"If you have been given a moment here, you should not let the dust grow under you," it reads. The quote is attributed to former U.S. Sen. Paul Coverdell, a Georgia Republican who died of a brain hemorrhage in 2000 in the middle of his second term in office.
Bynum keeps the quote there, where he is sure to see it every time he opens the notebook, a constant reminder not to take for granted the opportunity -- and obligation -- he has as an elected official to make life better for his constituents.
"So anytime I'm thinking about letting my foot up off the gas pedal, I see that, and it reminds me of all the work there is to do," said the 33-year-old councilor, now serving his second term.
It's an admonition that Bynum -- his full name is George Theron Bynum IV -- probably doesn't need to see on an everyday basis, given the fact that coasting doesn't come naturally to him. The plain truth is, he loves being a city councilor and relishes the challenges that come with the job.
"I really do have a reverence for the council as a legislative body," he said, before pausing to consider that statement and laughing. "I don't think the general public does, which is a shame."
Coverdell died just a couple of weeks after Bynum began working for U.S. Sen. Don Nickles in Washington, D.C., in 2000, but the legacy he left made a strong impression on the rookie staffer.
"He had been a workhorse in the Senate," Bynum said. "The kind of guy who wasn't out giving speeches and going down to the floor and just pontificating, but really working through issues, taking on lots of work. All these senators were coming down to the floor to pay tribute to him just sobbing.
"At the time, that made an impact on me because I thought, 'What is it? These guys are all Type A personalities, they're all very competitive, that's how they got here. What is it about this guy that brings out this kind of emotion?'" he said.
Politicians from both parties delivered stirring eulogies for their late comrade, and Bynum made a point of reading all of them. The common thread, he said, was Coverdell's penchant for reaching across the aisle to get things done -- and his work ethic.
"He was what they call a senator's senator," Bynum said. "He was a workhorse, not a show horse."
He was also the kind of legislator Bynum aspires to be.
Bynum acknowledges he has a long way to go before he's compiled the kind of record of public service that Coverdell, a former director of the Peace Corps, accumulated during three decades. But with six years of experience working on Capitol Hill and another three years on the council despite being only in his early 30s, Bynum is off to a fast start.
District 1 Councilor Jack Henderson, who in many ways is Bynum's opposite on the council in philosophy, says the two have a good, respectful, working relationship even though their different approaches to governing doesn't leave them seeing eye-to-eye very often.
"All in all, I have enjoyed him on the council," said Henderson, 53, who has served on the council since 2004.
"Sometimes he's a challenge to me, and I'm sure I'm a challenge to him. But I've learned things from him, and I'm sure he's learned things from me. I'm sure I'll be a better man because of some of those things I've come to know about him."
But ... Henderson says he worries that Bynum too often views issues from an idealistic perspective.
"I look at things more realistically, and he looks at things as he thinks they should be," Henderson said. "Reality doesn't always enter into his mind first. Knowing Tulsa as I do and being around this city as long as I have, I may have a different perspective of what's real and what's not. That's where we differ more than anything."
Bynum doesn't argue with the idea that he and Henderson don't have a lot of common ground. But he doesn't go along with the widely held notion that the constituents he represents don't have a lot of the same concerns as citizens in other parts of the city.
"It's a much more diverse district than I think some people associate it with being," he said of his District 9, which stretches roughly from 21st St. to 61st St. and from the middle of the Arkansas River to Yale Ave. "It's so often written off as a midtown, rich people's district. But I work with folks in that 61st and Peoria corridor, and the poverty and crime issues they face there are as real as anywhere else in the city. It's a fascinating district for somebody interested in public policy."
That phrase -- public policy -- has a real "my-eyes-glaze-over" quality for many people, but not Bynum, who freely and enthusiastically describes himself as a policy geek. His one-time boss, Nickles, agreed that phrase fits Bynum well.
"There are not too many people who like to dig into the nuts and bolts of the legislative process," said the former Republican senator from Ponca City, who retired in 2005 and now runs the Nickles Group, a government consulting firm, in Washington.
"It can be tough to dig down like that. It's not as simple as just taking constituent phone calls. Some of those can be sticky, and a lot of times there's not a clear-cut answer to how you resolve those issues."
Nickles recalled that Bynum was the kind of staff member who didn't mind working to resolve difficult conflicts -- a dispute between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and local residents over flooding issues, for instance -- even though such issues were not always glamorous.
"He would be happy to jump into them," Nickles said. "He was more than willing to do that."
Bynum said his love of public policy comes from his grandfather, former Tulsa Mayor Robert J. LaFortune.
"I grew up hearing from people why they thought he was a great mayor -- which, if you're interested in public service, it's a valuable exercise for people to spend your whole life telling you what they think is valuable in a public servant," he said.
"No. 1 on the list from people is, he (LaFortune) listened to all sides of an issue and understood the issue thoroughly before he made up his mind," Bynum said. "I always heard that, but I viewed public policy as 'Public policy, it sounds so dull and boring.' I didn't really appreciate it as a profession until I started working for (U.S. Sen.) Tom Coburn after that, who was a huge policy wonk. That's what helped me divorce the politics-as-sport issue from politics as public policy."
Political Climbing Poster Boy
One of the best things about being a city councilor, Bynum says, is the access it provides him to those who have gone before him -- city leaders whose perspective and counsel he seeks on a regular basis.
Recently, he and former Tulsa Mayor Roger Randle -- now the director of the University of Oklahoma's Center for Studies in Democracy and Culture in Tulsa -- had lunch together, and Bynum, as he periodically does, found himself despairing at the poor regard in which many citizens hold the City Council.
Randle, also a former state Senate pro tem, was able to offer Bynum a bit of hard-earned wisdom on that subject.
"He said, 'You know, G.T., the unfortunate thing is, it's hard for legislative bodies to be lovable.' And I thought, that's true because you have so many different opinions coming together," Bynum said.
The governing process itself helps reinforce that negative perception, he said, one of an eternally squabbling group whose members are interested only in protecting, and increasing, their own turf.
"We do it all in a public forum," he said of the way the council goes about its business. "It's not like in D.C. or (at the state Capitol in) Oklahoma City where everybody gets to meet behind closed doors and hash out their arguments and then go 'Wow!' and be all 'Kumbaya.'
"Transparency can sometimes be ugly. But it is transparent. People get to see all the different viewpoints at play. It's all there live on TV. They can come down and watch it happen. It's not behind closed doors, it's out in the open."
Despite his political pedigree -- which few, if any, Tulsans can match -- Bynum didn't seem destined for a career as a lawmaker in his younger years. As a graduate of Tulsa's Cascia Hall Preparatory School and Philadelphia's Villanova University, both private Catholic schools founded by the Order of Saint Augustine, Bynum found himself prepared to pursue another calling when he finished his studies in the spring of 2000. Having spent half his life in Augustinian schools at that point, he had embraced their philosophy wholeheartedly.
"I loved the focus on service to God through community," he said, seriously considering the monastic life.
Then fate intervened.
"I was signed up to go live with the Augustinians in Chicago when I graduated from college and was interested in the priesthood, if they'd have me," he said. "About a week before graduation, Sen. Nickles called and offered me a job on his staff. I thought I could help more people working with Sen. Nickles in the Senate than working in a soup kitchen in Chicago."
The offer didn't come out of the blue. Bynum had interned in Nickles' Tulsa office while in high school before serving as an intern for then-Gov. Frank Keating in college. Keating was so impressed with Bynum, he recommended him for another internship on Nickles' staff, this time at his main office in Washington.
It was during that tour that Bynum began to feel tugged toward a career in government.
"I was clearly the dork in my intern group who was blown away by it," he said, laughing as he recalled his youthful, enthusiasm. "As I told the other people in our intern group, and I remember them laughing at me for this, I said, 'This is like getting the chance to intern in the NBA! I mean, you're here with the people who are at the top of their game in the nation.' And so to be around that, and to see the Senate at work, that, to me, was my dream job, to go back and work for him after that."
Nickles recalled Bynum as being the best of a very talented group of interns in his office during that period. The senator periodically liked to reward the best people from those groups with full-time jobs upon graduation, but the problem was, turnover on his staff was low, and not many opportunities were available.
Nevertheless, when Bynum approached graduation, Nickles found a spot for him, believing his bright-eyed and bushy-tailed approach would be an asset to his office.
"G.T. more than fit that mold," Nickles said. "G.T. was one of the young, bright stars when he came to the Hill. He rose from the ranks pretty quickly."
Bynum said he barely hesitated before he took the senator up on his offer.
"One of my heroes calling me up and offering me a job to come work for him; it wasn't real difficult to change my mind," he said.
It was a move that had all sorts of implications on Bynum's future. Not only did he quickly become committed to a career in government, he also met the woman -- a University of Oklahoma graduate named Susan Carlson who was working on the staff of U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas -- who was destined to become his wife.
"That indicates I probably wouldn't have been a very good priest," he said, smiling.
Aside from a year and a half stint back in Tulsa running Nickles' office there, Bynum would spend most of the remainder of his twenties working in the Senate, part of the legion of young people who make up congressional staffs.
"It was wonderful," he said of that period in his life. "For a young person interested in government, there are few things you can do that give you so much access and opportunity as working on Capitol Hill. I do encourage any young Oklahomans who are interested in government to do it.
"I think that's one of the great secrets about our government that a lot of people aren't aware of is Capitol Hill is largely staffed by people under 30 years of age because they're the only ones who'll work that cheap and that hard. And so you get a tremendous amount of responsibility, and you learn a tremendous amount. That experience was really formative for me."
Nickles said young staff members are often surprised at the kind of impact they can make on the Hill.
"So they really can feel a sense of accomplishment," he said. "And that often whets their appetite for more success. You can do that when you're 25-years-old but not by hanging back."
The senator recalled his young staffer as being exceptionally hard working but also as a bit of an office prankster.
"I remember him laughing a lot," Nickles said. "He did have fun, which I appreciate. But he had a fiancé in Oklahoma (to whom he was soon married), so he wanted to go to Oklahoma a lot, and he did. He wanted to move back to Oklahoma. He was having great success here, and a lot of people move here and want to stay here. He wasn't one of them."
That desire to return home was weighing stronger and stronger in Bynum's mind when Nickles retired in January 2005. The now-veteran staffer accepted an offer to go to work for Nickles' replacement, the newly elected Coburn. But as much as he enjoyed working for his new boss, he realized the appeal of life on the Hill had worn off as he approached 30. Eager to start their own family, the Bynums decided to come back to Oklahoma and settle in Tulsa.
It was Bynum's first step away from a career in government, and he figured it would be a lengthy one, perhaps permanent. But Bynum had watched Nickles closely in his six years on Capitol Hill, and the senator had left a lasting impression on him, imparting values that Bynum would adopt when he mounted his own political career just a few years later.
"Having grown up with and having spent a lifetime around politicians, I can tell you there's often a difference between their public personae and what they're like in person," he said. "With Sen. Nickles, it wasn't like that at all. He was just the real deal. The biggest lesson I got from him was the ability to disagree without being disagreeable."
That quality is increasingly rare in American politics, Bynum said, noting that he periodically falls short of that ideal himself.
"The greatest failings I've had on the City Council have been when I've lost my cool and haven't disagreed without being disagreeable," he said. "It's a hard thing to stick to because the issues you deal with in public service, kind of people who are drawn to it, in my opinion, are wanting to do the right things for their communities, their country, their state, what have you. And it's easy to get overly impassioned on an issue and make it personal. And (Nickles) always did a great job of not doing that."
Making the transition to the private sector was not difficult for Bynum, who quickly found a job in public affairs with Williams & Williams, a Tulsa-based real estate auction firm that operates throughout the United States. After nine months there, he accepted a position as communications director for the local chapter of the Red Cross, then returned to his former job at Williams & Williams six months later.
Finally, last fall, he decided to bite the bullet and start his own federal government relations firm called, appropriately enough, G.T. Bynum Consulting.
"The business I'm building is really exciting," he said. "I've brought in one other person, so I've officially created a job, which is pretty awesome. That's exciting. And just the principal behind it -- somebody in Oklahoma, a business owner or a nonprofit or somebody like that who needs to interact with the federal government but just finds it too confusing and cumbersome and needs some guidance shouldn't have to go to D.C. and hire a $10,000-a-month lobbyist to help them. They should have somebody on the ground here who can help them out."
Bynum may not have spent a lot of time at Williams & Williams, but the relationship he developed there with company chairman and CEO Dean Williams had a major impact on him, both professionally and politically.
"I learned more in a year about business working with Dean Williams than I did in six years of handling business policy in the Senate," he said. "He was a brilliant entrepreneur. He's also a guy with a libertarian policy bent to him."
That libertarian awakening soon would come to inform more and more of Bynum's political philosophy. But the more he thought about it, the more he realized he had always harbored those sentiments.
In high school, for instance, Bynum had become one of the most successful members of the debate team at Cascia Hall after formulating a libertarian-based argument that he was able to use repeatedly.
"One of the reasons I did well was that I developed an argument that I learned how to flip on both sides of issues, and I used it over and over and over again, and it happened to be that issue -- what I call the protection of legitimate individual liberty, the idea that maximizing an individual's personal freedom until it infringes on someone's else's ought to be a goal in a society," he said.
"No one could ever beat that argument in debate after debate after debate after debate. People would try to attack it, but they could just never sell the judge on that not being what our goal ought to be in that situation."
Even so, Bynum didn't really have any intention of putting that philosophy to work as an elected official. Having moved back to Tulsa, his goal was to buy a house, start a family and get involved in nonprofit board work -- anything but running for office, he said.
That didn't mean Bynum wasn't still interested in politics, however.
He campaigned for his friend Cason Carter when Carter sought the District 9 City Council seat being vacated by Susan Neal in 2006. Carter's bid was successful, and Bynum figured his friend would serve in that seat for many years.
But Carter had his eye on a bigger prize, mounting a campaign for the state Senate just two years later. That left his council seat open, and he encouraged Bynum to seek it.
Despite his intentions to stay out of the political arena for a while, Bynum couldn't help but be intrigued by the opportunity. With no incumbent in the race, he realized this was likely to be the best chance he would have to get involved in city politics for the foreseeable future.
After doing some soul searching, it didn't take him long to make up his mind. Bynum sensed the timing was right.
"My Great-Grandfather LaFortune, who moved to Tulsa and made his fortune in the oil business, he always attributed his success in life -- I think the term he used that I've read -- was having the finger of God on his shoulder, pointing him in the right direction," he said.
"I don't pretend to have any direct link to God or anything like that, but I do think his finger's been on my shoulder, and he's put me in the right place at the right time where I'm supposed to be at different times in my life. And so when decisions come up, I have a strong inner direction almost every time that tells me what I'm supposed to do."
But there were other, more worldly factors motivating him, as well. Bynum and his wife were big supporters of the 2007 Our River Yes! campaign for a sales tax increase that would have funded $282 million in improvements to the Arkansas River, and they were not happy to see it go down in defeat.
"When it failed, I was really disappointed in the response of the leaders of the city, which seemed to me to be, 'We'll wait 10 years and then try again,'" Bynum said. "Working in the Senate, I'd known that when we had a bill that was really important and it failed, we went back to the drawing board and found what things we needed to fix in order to get the votes to win. We didn't just say, 'Oh, well, it's over, we'll try again 10 years from now.' "
Bynum characterizes the river as the biggest untapped asset in the city and believes it has the capacity to become Tulsa's biggest economic driver. Earning himself a seat on the City Council, he believed, would provide him with the chance to champion that belief.
"With that in mind, and a lifelong history of interest in city government, I ran and was lucky enough to get elected," he said about his win in 2008.
That term was only for one year, so in 2009, Bynum found himself running again. He won re-election easily, outdistancing his opponent, Democract Robert Lowry, by a nearly 3-1 margin and solidifying his status as one of the city's most highly regarded young leaders.
But what most of his supporters didn't know was that Bynum had come very close, like Carter before him, to gambling that he could capture an even more powerful seat.
Ambitious, in a Patient Sort of Way
The unexpected withdrawal of then-Mayor Kathy Taylor from the race just weeks before the primary election wreaked havoc on the entire campaign. Taylor, a Democrat, was widely considered unbeatable, and few Republicans had even entertained the notion of challenging her. But when she announced she would not seek re-election, the prospect of mounting a mayoral campaign suddenly became a lot more appealing to a variety of GOP political figures.
Bynum was one of them.
Almost immediately, he said, he was approached by a variety of party supporters and encouraged to file for the seat. His immediate reaction was that he was too young to run for mayor, but Bynum did not dismiss the idea. For several days, he gave it serious thought.
Finally, feeling himself pulled in both directions, Bynum drove to his family house on Grand Lake for a weekend of quiet reflection. It was while there he was able to put his ego aside and come to the realization that he didn't know as much about the job as he needed to.
"Ultimately, I quit trying to convince myself that I should run and listened again to that inner direction and realized it wasn't the right time," he said. "We were going to have a baby and at that time our son was 2, so they're more important to me than being mayor. But it was still a difficult decision to come to."
Besides, he figured, he was already in a great position to work for Tulsa's future.
"I love being on the City Council," he said. "That was the other thing -- if I ran, I couldn't run for re-election on the City Council. And for a guy who loves public policy, being on the City Council in Tulsa is like being a kid in a candy store."
Now, nearly a year removed from that decision to reel in his ambition and concentrate on his family, consulting business and council concerns, Bynum doesn't seem to have any regrets -- even as he and the rest of the council struggle to get along with the man who claimed the mayor's office, Dewey Bartlett Jr.
Sharp differences of opinion over how to deal with a devastating budget shortfall, as well as accusations that Terry Simonson, the mayor's chief of staff, lied to councilors about a federal grant, have helped create a toxic atmosphere between the administration and the council. For Bynum, who campaigned for Bartlett and looked forward to working with him, the situation is hard to bear.
"The acrimony has gone over the top," he said. "And every time I think we've reached the bottom, the bottom falls out and we find a way to go deeper. My hope, though, is that we can sit down with the mayor, with 10 elected officials, and work something out because I've not had a single one of my constituents come up to me in the last month and say, 'Gosh, I sure hope this investigation keeps on going, and you guys draw this out.' Tulsans want it to be over, and they want us to move on and start focusing on stuff that's actually going to benefit their lives, not continue this soap opera."
Bynum was one of the leaders of an effort to use mediation as a means of resolving the various disputes between the mayor and council, a list of grievances that seemingly was mushrooming by the day by late July. On Aug. 26, the City Council voted 7-2 against a formal mediation, but the council did approve a public forum to work on city policy issues as well as to hash out issues involving the strained relationship.
One of the great ironies of the situation, he acknowledged, is that it has unified the council like never before.
"If you look back, every mayor's had problems with councilors," he said. "Mayor Taylor had problems with some councilors, Bill LaFortune did, Susan Savage did. But none of them have had unanimous problems before. I'm hopeful that the mayor'll take that as a sign that he needs to work in a more cooperative fashion with the council. And I say that as someone who worked on his campaign and grew up looking up to him."
Meanwhile, the business of trying to govern the city goes on. Bynum's biggest allies on the council are fellow Republicans Rick Westcott of District 2, the council chairman, and John Eagleton of District 7. The three are the foundation of what has seemed to evolve into the council's most powerful voting bloc in recent months, though Westcott has noted that kind of power on the council is fleeting.
"They finally saw the light. They're recognizing the wisdom of my position," he deadpanned before bursting into laughter. "Seriously, I think that's just an ephemeral thing, and it depends on the issue. It doesn't signify a change of voting blocs or alliances."
Bynum pointed to the constantly shifting nature of those alliances, adding that a year ago, he felt like he usually found himself on the opposite side of most issues from Westcott and Eagleton.
"But from a personal standpoint, I would say those are two of my very good friends, and it's great to just hang out with them," he said, noting that the three of them often get together after council meetings to discuss their families, their jobs, anything but politics.
"Doing this job, you know, it's not the most glamorous job in the whole world," he said. "You're not inundated with respect from your peers. But anyone who's been in that job knows what you're going through, knows what it's like to be casting those votes and making those decisions. And so it's nice to spend some time with former councilors, current ones, outside of that work environment and get to know them. And Westcott and Eagleton are two of the funniest guys I know, so it's great to hang out with them."
Westcott and Bynum have been working in tandem throughout the past year to promote the development of the riverfront, particularly the west bank, and are hoping to have a series of small tax increment finance districts put in place there in the future to attract developers. Westcott holds Bynum in particularly high regard, expressing admiration for his brightness and his political acumen, as well as his ability to build a consensus on certain issues.
"His willingness to cross party lines and offer assistance to another councilor who needs help with a project," Westcott said, responding a question about Bynum's strengths. "His ability to bring people together."
Putting to use the lessons he learned from Nickles, Bynum said he strives to be the kind of councilor who can work with anybody, including Henderson, who is so often the yin to Bynum's yang.
"Jack Henderson represents the most Democratic district on the City Council, and I represent the most Republican," he said. "Jack and I have had some run-ins -- I joke with him that every time we're in the paper trashing each other, both of us, our popularity ratings go up 10 percent in each of our districts -- but Jack and I have also worked together on more things than we've worked against each other. The trick is in identifying what those things are that you can work together on."
Henderson said he enjoyed working closely with Bynum to get a roads improvement package passed in the fall of 2008, with the two councilors making several joint public appearances in their two districts to drum up support. And when they don't agree on an issue, he said, they still have the civility to treat each other with respect.
Still, Henderson said, he gets the nagging feeling that many of the issues Bynum chooses to promote are not his own. As an example, he cited Bynum's unsuccessful attempt earlier this summer to get council approval for a package of changes to the city's election laws. Henderson was particularly mystified by a proposal that would have created a primary election for independent candidates.
"I didn't see where that had any value to anyone," he said. "And he could not demonstrate that any independent candidate wanted it. I got the impression it was an issue he was doing for someone else."
Bynum responded directly to that charge.
"It was one of those things where people were asking me, 'Well, who's really pushing this?' Me," he said. "I thought during the mayor's campaign that some people brought up fair concerns about how our election system works, and so I thought we ought to have a task force to look at how we might improve it.
"There wasn't any big constituency pushing for it, and since it was just my personal interest, I'm not going to continue to push it," he said. "If there were a ton of people out there really counting on us to get it done, I would feel more inclined to burn up political capital to try to get it done, but you've got to be a realist and focus on what you can get done."
That explanation aside, Henderson noted that more than one of his council colleagues have gone so far as to accuse Bynum of carrying water for Bartlett, though that was several months ago, before the mayor's relationship with the council had deteriorated to its current state.
Veteran local political observer Michael Bates, author of the Batesline.com blog, agrees.
"I certainly had that feeling, too," he said.
Bates worries about Bynum's role as a registered federal lobbyist for local businesses and organizations, particularly his work for the George Kaiser Family Foundation -- an organization he described as Bynum's biggest client.
Bates noted that it is difficult, if not impossible, to prove a link between Bynum's work on behalf of such clients and his stance on various issues that come before the council. But the possibility for a conflict troubles him.
"I can't really think of another example where somebody is a paid lobbyist at one level and an elected official at another," he said. "It's a strange thing -- and a little worrisome, to be honest."
The political blogger acknowledged Bynum's tenure on the council has been a disappointment to him.
"It appears some of his core decision-making principles aren't what I would have expected from a former aide to Sen. Coburn," he said.
Bates emphasized that he finds Bynum very likable and that they remain on good terms. When Bynum returned to Tulsa from Washington three years ago, he said he became a regular reader of Batesline.com, and Bates acknowledged that Bynum approached him then to talk about urban planning issues. Bates couldn't help but be impressed by Bynum's enthusiasm for public policy.
"But I've found that on many controversial issues, we wind up on opposite sides, despite our political affiliations," he said.
Bates was particularly irked by Bynum's decision to help persuade his fellow councilors to adopt a measure that would ban discrimination among city employees on the basis of sexual orientation.
"In that case, I thought he didn't really understand the issue from a conservative perspective and the path other cities in this country have undertaken when taking this step," he said.
A great many local conservatives expressed their irritation with Bynum over that issue. But the councilor defended his action as an example of his libertarian leanings.
"One thing I've tried to -- and not always been successful, but tried -- is be intellectually honest on the issues we've faced on the council," he said. "That comes from that freedom that comes from not caring about being re-elected, just focused on doing what I think is the right thing, what's best for the city. So when that issue came up, it gibed perfectly with my sense of what is right.
"Somebody should not be discriminated against in the workplace because of their sexual orientation. And that goes for a heterosexual employee with a homosexual supervisor and vice versa. It is not the business of a supervisor in the workplace, and it has nothing to do with job performance."
Bynum said fellow Councilor Maria Barnes had been working on the measure for much longer than he had, but his support for it drew much more attention because he is a Republican. Nevertheless, he said, he was happy to help shepherd the measure through the council.
"To me, if I'm going to remain intellectually honest and true to my values and beliefs, then there was never a question about working on that issue," he said.
To his surprise, Bynum's effort to get the city and county to put together a joint task force to explore areas in which they might avoid duplication of services turned out to be much more controversial -- and not nearly as successful, teaching him a valuable lesson about the makeup of the council.
"The biggest thing I've learned this year is that it doesn't matter what I care about -- in a vacuum," he said. "I can run on all these things. But ultimately, it's the body as a team, and the mayor included in that, it's the government that decides what happens and what gets done. And so what you have to do is look at the team you've got and see what you can accomplish.
"I came in this go-around pushing the city-county deal, which, with the previous council, would have been a slam dunk," he said. "I mean, that thing would have passed in December or January, and right now, we'd be incorporating the findings of the task force. It would have taken 20 minutes to pass that thing through the council, just long enough for everybody to give their speech about what a great idea it was.
"But the flip side is, there's no way I could have gotten that sexual orientation thing through the previous council," he said. "We've been able to do things on development issues that prevent runoff into neighboring homes that we probably couldn't have gotten through with the previous council. So this council's been able to do a lot of important things that we couldn't do before. But at the same time, there are things we could have done before we can't do now."
Mayor GT Bynum?
As for his political future, Bynum doesn't reveal much, indicating only that he's happy to be a councilor for now and that a job at the state Capitol doesn't appeal to him.
"You won't ever find me running for anything at the state level because I just don't find it interesting," he said.
But Bates doesn't doubt Bynum will make a run for the city's highest office and probably sooner rather than later.
"I think so," he said. "It's almost literally in his blood ... There's a lot of history there, and I think his approach, much like Cason Carter's, to controversial issues instills a sense that he's playing to somebody who he thinks is going to help him. I think that ambition is definitely there."
For his part, Bynum dismisses the notion that's building up political capital to be used for a campaign run in the future.
"A lot of people say, 'Oh, you're running for City Council, climbing up the ladder.' Well, I'm enough of a history buff to have done my research," he said. "You know how many people from the City Council have been elected to something else, anything else, directly from the City Council? Two in 20 years. Randi Miller got elected county commissioner and Robert Nelson got elected judge. Otherwise, it's kind of cursed."
Nevertheless, Henderson believes the mayor's office is well within Bynum's grasp, though he issues that proclamation with an important qualifier.
"With his family, he's in a position to line himself up as mayor of this city one of these days," Henderson said. "I think that's great. As he develops and learns more about the city as a whole, I wish him well. I just hope he doesn't try it anytime soon, because he's got a lot to learn."
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