Like a lot of other people in Tulsa, Tom Adelson said he was caught off guard when Democratic Mayor Kathy Taylor announced last month that she was reversing course and would not seek re-election.
That new reality created by the absence of a strong incumbent triggered a good deal of behind-the-scenes maneuvering in both major political parties, which were forced to identify and recruit strong candidates with only weeks to go before the July 15 filing deadline. Adelson, a Democrat who represents Tulsa's District 33 in the state Senate, found himself part of that scramble and ultimately decided to jump into the campaign. He kicked off his run with an announcement July 1 at Tulsa's Braden Park.
"I took a hard look at it within two days," Adelson said of a potential run for the mayor's office.
Adelson said there were a number of factors that led to his decision, including his familiarity with the city. Not only is he a lifelong Tulsan with deep family roots here, he said, the boundaries of his Senate district lie entirely within the city, so he already had a strong knowledge of the issues he would be facing if elected mayor.
"I'd like to help develop a consensus to lead this city for the next 25 years," he said.
Adelson was the second well-known local political figure to enter the race. The first was Republican Dewey Bartlett Jr., a former city councilor and the son of a former Oklahoma governor and U.S. senator. As of early this week, the only other announced candidates were Republican Clay Clark and Democrat Robert Gwin Jr.
If no other candidates join the field, and Adelson and Bartlett emerge victorious from the Sept. 8 primary election, it would set up an intriguing general election. The two already have squared off once before, with Adelson narrowly defeating Bartlett in a 2004 race for the state Senate seat Adelson now holds.
The issues the two candidates chose to highlight during their campaign announcements might yield some insight into what direction their potential administrations would take. Bartlett emphasized a desire to bring to an end the political bickering between the mayor's office and the City Council, while also strongly promoting a pro-business agenda.
Adelson initially took a much broader approach, indicating in his prepared remarks that his vision for the city included making it a place where everyone could feel safe and secure, where children are well-educated, where seniors are well cared for and where city streets are in good condition.
But in an interview afterward, he spoke at length about his both his short-term and long-term goals. In the immediate future, he said, Tulsa faces a big challenge in navigating its way through the economic downturn, although he noted the situation here is much better than what many other large cities are facing. His initial emphasis would be on maintaining city services in the face of what he anticipates will be a very tight budget next year.
"I would work as closely as I can with every department in city government to make sure we're delivering public services at a level of professionalism while at the same time balancing the budget," he said.
During the course of his administration, Adelson said he would hope to build a consensus for Tulsa's long-term development. He said he hopes to duplicate the efforts he made in the state Senate to modernize state government and to promote sustainable, efficient building designs.
When quizzed about the PLANiTULSA project--the citywide process to update Tulsa's comprehensive plan, which will guide local growth and development for the next 30 years--Adelson said he was eagerly awaiting the results of the survey process, which polled local residents on their preferences among four potential development scenarios.
"I think it's really cool," he said of the way PLANiTULSA has engaged citizens in a discussion about their city's future. "This isn't the kind of exercise that you see very often."
Adelson said he favored a scenario positioned somewhere between C and D on the survey. Scenario C--known as "New Centers"--calls for concentrating new growth downtown and along main arteries, creating new development centers that are linked to downtown and each other by transit lines. Scenario D--known as "Central City"--focuses on sustainable development, calling for most growth to take place downtown or near downtown. It also funnels 73 percent of future transportation funding into transit, as opposed to road improvements. Both scenarios mark a strong departure from the way Tulsa has grown since World War II, with most development taking place farther and farther from downtown.
Before joining the Senate, Adelson served as the state's secretary of health under Gov. Brad Henry, where he helped secure the passage of the state's first clean air legislation and was instrumental in securing the adoption of a bill that protected public health funding for thousands of state children. During his time in the Senate, he promoted the adoption of LEED-certified standards in the construction of new public buildings. He said he would support the creation of a voluntary LEED program in Tulsa as part of an effort to encourage sustainable development, though he acknowledged Oklahoma is behind the curve on such issues.
"I learned a lot from the architect who helped me carry that legislation," Adelson said, recalling his experience in the Senate. "He was a LEED-certified architect who had done more than 5 million square feet of work in community spaces. And none of that was in Oklahoma. I think we need to examine what we can do to take advantage of that kind of experience. So there's a tremendous amount of work to be done on the public awareness side."
Adelson, who said he would continue to serve in the Senate until elected mayor, also expressed the idea of the city launching a pilot program in alternative energy through the new National Energy Policy Institute at the University of Tulsa. The institute, which was funded by an $8 million outlay by the George Kaiser Family Foundation, is headed by former Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles and is charged with establishing a rational energy policy that will effectively reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
The timing and setting of Adelson's press conference--8am at an obscure midtown park, with geese squawking in a pond in the background and a fair number of dogs joining their owners in the crowd--were anything but traditional, by political standards anyway. But for a candidate who enjoys talking about his love of such home-grown Tulsa institutions as Weber's Root Beer and Bama Pies, that choice seemed a natural one.
"Part of the message I believe in is the integrity of neighborhoods," he said. "Our campaign is going to redouble our efforts to help neighborhoods and lead the conversation about the kind of city Tulsa needs to become in the next 25 years."
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