Next Tuesday, March 4, Democrats in Tulsa City Council Districts 1, 4, and 9, and Republicans in District 4 will vote in a primary election. Yes, I realize that the City Charter says the primary should have been a month ago, but the Election Board pleaded with the Council to postpone it, so that their workers wouldn't have to cope with presidential primary, council primary, and school board ballots all on the same day.
It's probably for the best, but I still can't figure out how elected officials have the authority to alter their own election date when it's set out in our city's basic law.
In District 1, two-term incumbent Jack Henderson has drawn two Democratic primary opponents, Emanuel Lewis (no, not the star of Webster) and Mike McConnell. There's no runoff, and there won't be a general election; whoever gets the most votes in the primary wins the seat. (A web search doesn't turn up a website for any of the candidates.)
While Henderson has been assertive in pursuing his district's concerns, he has also reached across partisan, racial, and geographical lines to address issues of importance to the whole city. In the face of a great deal of pressure and political threats from powerful interests, Henderson opposed a county sales tax increase for non-essentials, insisting that basic needs deserved higher priority.
Henderson was told that his opposition to the county tax increase would mean well-financed opponents at re-election time. It will be interesting to examine the campaign finance reports to see which of Henderson's two opponents has received the most outside-the-district money.
In District 4, first-term Councilor Maria Barnes (mariabarnes4tulsa.com) is being challenged in the Democratic primary by John Nidiffer (midtownvoice.com). Nidiffer, whose father developed Mayo Meadow Shopping Center and the surrounding subdivision in the 1950s, is landlord to the Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market. To his credit, he has been careful about the impact of the new grocery on the neighborhood -- he himself lives right behind the store -- and is seeking outparcel tenants who would be a good fit.
Barnes has not been a headline-grabbing councilor, but you'll see her at neighborhood association meetings and at regular district-wide town halls, keeping up with the concerns. Her many years as president of the Kendall-Whittier Neighborhood Association have given her first-hand experience with the issues that face District 4's older neighborhoods, such as redevelopment, zoning, eminent domain, code enforcement, and crime prevention.
I've known Barnes for 10 years, working side-by-side for the concerns of Midtown neighborhoods. During her two years on the Council I've disagreed with her on many issues (the One Technology Center deal, which she supported, and the resolution asking Tulsa Police to check the immigration status of those taken in to custody, which she opposed, to name just two), but I've appreciated her leadership on zoning and planning issues.
Barnes deserves praise for starting the push for neighborhood conservation districts, an idea that was discussed during the 1999 Infill Task Force but which has been on the back burner ever since. It's an effort that won't win her many fans in the development industry, but it's important that we find a way to allow new construction while protecting the character of our classic Midtown neighborhoods.
As a District 4 Republican, I face a difficult primary choice. Jay Matlock seems eager and well-intentioned, and he has some intelligent things to say about urban design on his website (jaymatlock.com), but he's only lived in the district for a few years.
On the other hand, Rocky Frisco (rockyfrisco.com) has lived in the same neighborhood in District 4 for most of his 70 years. He would bring a libertarian perspective to the City Council: A city government focused on providing basic services, with minimal interference in the lives and pocketbooks of Tulsa citizens.
Jason Eric Gomez (eric4tulsa.com) was the 2004 Republican nominee in District 4, and he came within 24 votes of beating incumbent Tom Baker. Gomez has been a leader in Renaissance Neighborhood, just south of TU, for about a decade.
He is a realtor and has a construction company that specializes in restoration and remodeling.
District 9 is an open seat, as Cason Carter pursues a place in the State Senate. Although the seat is overwhelmingly Republican, there is only one GOP candidate, G. T. Bynum (gtbynum.com). He will face independent Paul Tay (safestreetsforkids.blogspot.com) and the winner of the Democratic primary.
Phil Kates (members.cox.net/philisback), the sole Democratic candidate in 2006, is opposed by Roger Lowry (no website), who was the 2004 Republican nominee in District 1 and a Democratic candidate in District 1 in 2006.
You can learn more about the candidates in Tuesday's primary through their responses to questionnaires by TulsaNow (tulsanow.org), the League of Women Voters (lwvtulsa.org), and Preserve Midtown (preservemidtown.com) And, by keeping in touch with our Great Big Election Year coverage in UTW, your Election Connection.
I can't write about the City Council this week without mentioning the passing of the longest-serving councilor. Darla Hall, a westside Democrat, won an upset primary victory in 1990 over Streets Commissioner J. D. Metcalfe, winning election to the first City Council under the new charter. She served five terms before stepping down in 2000.
Hall was a frequent target of the daily paper, but neighborhood leaders from all over the city remember her as a constant ally. I had the pleasure of working with her in 2000 on the poorly-funded but successful campaign to defeat the arena sales tax.
Darla Hall was a true representative of west Tulsa. May she rest in peace.
Corporate Welfare Down the 'Pike?
Oklahoma City has an election next Tuesday, too. Mayor Mick Cornett is asking voters to approve a one-cent, 15-month city sales tax to pay for $121 million in improvements to the barely-five-year-old Ford Center, plus a separate NBA-quality practice facility. Proponents claim that the modifications, which will cost more than the arena itself, are necessary to land an NBA team.
The sales tax would be the second repurposing of the original one-cent Metropolitan Area Programs (MAPS) tax. When the original expired, the tax was renewed for capital improvements to schools and was dubbed "MAPS for Kids."
Detractors call the new program "MAPS for Millionaires," pointing to the wealth of the Oklahoma City moguls who now own the Seattle SuperSonics.
It's hard to imagine why OKC residents would support this tax, given that the SuperSonics don't generate any economic impact on their current home city.
That assertion doesn't come from opponents of the sales tax. It comes from the team itself.
The Seattle Times reported on Jan. 18 that the SuperSonics admitted their economic uselessness in a court brief filed as part of their effort to get out of their lease at KeyArena two years early.
The SuperSonics stated, "The financial issue is simple, and the city's analysts agree, there will be no net economic loss if the Sonics leave Seattle. Entertainment dollars not spent on the Sonics will be spent on Seattle's many other sports and entertainment options. Seattleites will not reduce their entertainment budget simply because the Sonics leave."
The Sonics' claim hasn't received much attention down the turnpike, although it did get one mention in a surprisingly balanced story in the Feb. 17 Oklahoman. Tax supporters dismissed the quote as irrelevant, presumably because they think Oklahoma City's residents are harder up for entertainment than Seattleites.
OKC voters do have some clear data for evaluating the economic impact of the NBA. The tax proponents' own analysis of the New Orleans Hornets two years in OKC shows that the team generated about $1.4 million in incremental city sales tax revenue in its first year at the Ford Center, but less than a million dollars in its second year.
At that rate it would take over a century to bring in enough revenue to accomplish what could be done directly with that $121 million to improve basic city infrastructure.
(An average attendance drop from 16,863 to 13,213 also suggests that the novelty of having an NBA team in town wore off quickly.)
Given the way Tulsa's civic leaders look to Oklahoma City as a role model to be slavishly imitated, I do hope the voters there block this shot at welfare for wealthy team owners. Oklahoma doesn't need to become another victim of the major league sports extortion racket.
Cavalcade at Cain's
One last thing: It's time once again to gather at the Mother Church of Western Swing to celebrate Bob Wills's birthday. The musical innovator made Cain's Ballroom his home base, and several of the musicians who played with him will be there performing in his honor on Saturday night, March 1. Bob Wills' Texas Playboys, led by Leon Rausch and Tommy Allsup, headline a program that includes Tulsa's own Round-Up Boys and the Chuck Hayes Swing Review. There is no better place to hear Western Swing and no better band to play it than the band that made it famous. Hope to see you at Cain's!
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