In less than three weeks the filing period for candidates to be Tulsa's next mayor will be upon us. As is always the case before the filing begins, there are many names getting talked about.
Some of those mentioned don't have a chance of winning and, fortunately, will realize that before the filing period and avoid embarrassing themselves. As so many of the lousy singers on American Idol soon realize, your friends who have never done this before really don't know what they are talking about when they tell you that you can win. They are just trying to be a good friend.
When the filing period closes, the three serious candidates likely to be standing are Mayor Dewey Bartlett, former city councilor Bill Christiansen, and former mayor Kathy Taylor. As everyone who follows local politics should know by now, this will be the first time the mayoral election is nonpartisan, not that the partisan label has meant much in past elections. Nevertheless this will look like a ballot for a school board race. With this arrangement, chances are that two candidates will move on to the general election in November unless one of them secures 50 percent plus one of the votes and wins it all in June.
With the filing in April and the nonpartisan primary to narrow the field in June, there will be 60 days of nonstop campaigning and electioneering. In the middle of those 60 days, schools will let out and summer camps start, there will be graduations and weddings, people will go to the lake, and there is the Memorial Day holiday. There will be plenty of normal, outdoor, summertime distractions to keep people from focusing on TV ads, mail, and the election. And then, of course, there is the historical curse of low turnout for what some will still see as a "primary" election held in the summer. Some won't bother to vote because they'll think the election that really matters isn't until November.
Under all of these circumstances normally one would think that the advantage goes to the one with the highest name recognition. But when the three likely candidates to file already have high degrees of name recognition, no one really needs to be introduced to who they are. The election will ultimately be about what they stand for, what they have done, and what they will do.
Often, what one local candidate says what he or she will do sounds incredibly like what all of the other candidates are saying as well. Everyone already knows where everyone else will stand on the issues of public safety, jobs, education, streets, water, parks, taxes, etc.
So what will be the deciding factors that will cause people to decide who to support?
To add to this real quandary is that some voters may have voted for each of the main contenders in past races because they have never run against each other. This will the first time a current mayor, a past mayor, and a past city councilor have all appeared on the same ballot for the same office. If you voted for each of them once before, how do you decide who to vote for when you have to pick just one?
Maybe the best perspective is not to focus on what the candidates have to say about themselves, but instead look at this race as an election about the future of Tulsa, not the future of the candidates. Perhaps the best way to break this decisive logjam is to ask yourself several questions about Tulsa such as: Are we better off today than we were four years ago?
Do you think Tulsa is heading in the right direction? Should we finish what we have started or do we start over? Is continuity in leadership the best or is change in leadership the best? Does change move us forward or does change move us backward?
Are we satisfied with the delivery of major city services like police, fire, water, and sewer or are we dissatisfied?
Many people will be loyal to their favorite candidate regardless of how they would answer these questions. To some, it's about the person they like, not the person they have.
At the end of the day, it's about leadership. Of course in campaigns it will be tempting for candidates to lay claim to what they got done. But in the words of Ronald Reagan, "The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things; he is the one who gets the people to do the greatest things."
We have all heard and seen negative campaigns. And as much as we tire of them, we are told they are effective or they wouldn't be used. But whether they are effective or not, if the best you've got to say is what's wrong with the other guy, then you aren't really saying anything about yourself. And if you aren't saying anything about yourself, then why would someone vote for you?
The race for mayor in the City of Tulsa is the most important mayor's race in the entire State of Oklahoma because it's the only city with a strong mayor form of government. The mayor is not one of many equals. The mayor is one alone. The mayor is the CEO. He or she is the commander of the public safety forces. He or she is the captain of our ship. For these reasons and many others, our mayor needs a great combination of discernment, patience, decisiveness, compassion, justice, courage, and self discipline.
Find those qualities and you have found your mayor.
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