We have a numbing spectacle unfolding: a year-long contest for Tulsa mayor with five months to go.
In an interesting result, given indications from the pre-election Tulsa World/Sooner poll -- a poll that now looks defective -- former mayor Kathy Taylor came in a clear first in last week's primary election. But because of a problematic "reform" authorized by last year's "Save Our Tulsa" voter proposition, 50 percent plus one vote is actually required to win. So, as everyone with ears now knows, we will witness a long, second-round campaign -- with Taylor duking things out with incumbent Mayor Dewey Bartlett, whose anemic 34-percent showing matches the shellacking voters gave former Mayor Terry Young in a half-forgotten primary bid for his reelection in 1986. With 42 percent of the vote and a rousing set of victories in midtown and the north (and good results in the south), Taylor once again outpaced a seated Republican incumbent. Taylor performed the same feat in 2009 when she defeated Republican Mayor Bill LaFortune in a closely fought general election contest. Our new, elongated routine is unprecedented in Tulsa: no one knows what the face-off will look or sound like: will there be another round of debates scheduled by the League of Women Voters and other organizations? How will the long slough be waged?
A highly touted poll released the weekend before the election conducted by the Sooner Poll / Tulsa World confab, surprised many Tulsans with its depiction of a tied race between Taylor and Bartlett. The poll used a normally perfectly acceptable methodology -- random digit dialing -- widely employed these days to include the responses of unlisted telephone owners and the growing cell-phone-only camp. Since there is no directory of cell phone users -- who now constitute a huge share of active voters, this method works very well in general elections with high turnouts. But using it requires pollsters to ask the folks they interview how likely it is that they will actually vote in the contest in question: producing a lot of what social science pros call "social acquiescence." It turns out that people are reluctant to concede that they are not really active voters, so there's some overrepresentation of people who are highly unlikely to vote in an event like last week's primary. The evidence suggests that these people are also low information voters. They may know the name of a sitting contender, but are hazy about the identity of the other players in anything other than a national contest. And while the World / Sooner poll was conducted along guidelines that media organizations now routinely employ in public polling work, readers might have gotten a better picture if the World's pollsters had used a more attuned voter model, like a sample composed of high-frequency voters: folks who typically make up a huge share of the voters in modest turnout events like our mayoral primary.
A Flash Analysis
I asked a longtime friend, assistant political science and history professor at TCC and a former member of the state legislature Dr. Bruce Niemi, what he divined in the numbers and the "map" routinely produced after an event like last week's contest.
"The big surprise was Bill's weakness in South Tulsa," he said. "Going into this, I thought with his Bridenstine-tinged, Tea Party support (coupled with the Tea Party-backed candidacy of John Wright on the ballot in South Tulsa) and the fact it was his home city council district, that he'd be more competitive with Dewey. Republicans appeared to stick with Dewey city-wide except in East Tulsa (aka District 6) where voters have tended to favor anti-establishment, conservative insurgent candidates and issues. Meanwhile, Taylor dominated 'old' Tulsa (Downtown, Midtown & North side), receiving a majority in some 74114 'money belt' precincts. In this respect, Taylor's ground campaign worked."
He concluded "On the surface this, doesn't bode real well for Dewey in November.
He needs to consolidate the Republican vote, as well as pick up votes in his old District 9 council district base. The challenge for Taylor is to disengage her organization until after Labor Day and then hit it hard again turning out her people in the fall."
The Looong Campaign
There really aren't very many instances in Tulsa history where voters experience the consequences on public policy of strange or elongated campaigns. But modern national political history offers several instances. Eugene McCarthy's shockingly close run against President Lyndon Johnson in the 1968 New Hampshire primary is one of the most famous. McCarthy didn't win, but some keen observers believe that Johnson's choice, shortly thereafter, not to seek another term slowed the pace of the nascent Vietnam peace talks. A second example: the humbling that Sen. Ted Kennedy exacted against incumbent Pres. Jimmy Carter in the early phase of the 1980 democratic presidential primaries. Here, some observers believe, the Iranian hostage crisis -- then at the center of the national political arena -- and Kennedy's strong insurgency helped create Carter's diplomatic paralysis. And this failure and the political pressures spawned by Kennedy may have led to a hastily-organized hostage rescue mission which failed spectacularly and contributed mightily to Carter's defeat at Ron Reagan's hands later that year.
One could imagine that key matters will go on at Tulsa City Hall with a diminished-but-still-in-place Dewey Bartlett at the helm. But something tells me that everything will go on at a slower pace as our extended mayoral contest slowly rolls itself to completion in late 2013.
But there is a passel of things in play that may get taken up and decided in premature, arguably unsatisfactory ways.
Next, the re-heated controversy about renaming the Brady District, to cite another example, has incited a lot of media commentary and has been the subject of a recent public hearing convened by City Councilor Jack Henderson.
Third, the future of the Tulsa jail -- the David Moss facility -- may be a touchtone issue in the campaign to come: there's an effort to link additional city funding to a more aggressive crime-control gambit. But there's also a contrasting effort, led by progressive forces, to emphasize that indiscriminate jailing of people -- especially disproportionate incarceration of minority folks -- is profoundly counterproductive, hugely costly and inconsistent with an increasingly energetic effort to address the catastrophic impacts of mass incarceration here in Tulsa and across the country. Taylor and Bartlett have taken contrasting views in this matter and may sharpen their difference as the campaign proceeds.
We are in unexplored territory: what will happen next in the 2013 mayoral contest is up to the media, the candidate. And you, dear reader.
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